Why Diversity Matters in Health Care

As a health professions student, you need to be aware of the complex issues that shape the health care field in the United States. Some of the most urgent topics today revolve around our nation’s need to eliminate inequities in the quality and availability of health care for ethnic, racial and economic minorities. Closely connected to this is the need to increase both the diversity and the cultural competence of our health care workforce.

ExploreHealthCareers.org is committed to promoting and supporting diversity, in all of its many expressions. A diverse body of students in health professional schools today will ensure a stronger and more diverse health workforce tomorrow. It is our mission to foster equity, enlarge opportunities and promote excellence in the health professions.

For the purposes of this site, the definition of diversity encompasses many characteristics, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, education, culture, heritage, religion, geography, physical abilities and socio-economic status.

It is our hope that ExploreHealthCareers.org will help to create the ideal health professionals of tomorrow: Men and women of all ages and backgrounds, who are open-minded, compassionate, respectful of others and committed to providing the best possible health care to all people in need, especially the uninsured and those who live in medically underserved areas.

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Health and Health Care Disparities

Numerous studies in recent years have documented disparities in the quality of health and health care among different racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups.

  • Persons in families who are poor (14.7 percent) are about twice as likely as persons in high-income families (7.2 percent) to be unable to get or delayed in getting needed medical care, dental care or prescription medicines.
  • Non-Hispanic blacks residing in a non-Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) were less likely to have seen the doctor for a routine preventive visit, compared to non-Hispanic blacks residing in an MSA.
  • Based on information from the Agency for Healthcare Research Quality’s National Healthcare Disparities Report 2011, Blacks received worse care than Whites for 41% of quality measures. Asians, American Indians and Alaska Natives received worse care than Whites for about 30% of quality measures. Hispanics received worse care than non-Hispanic Whites for 39% of measures.

If you are interested in helping close the disparities gap, consider the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). More than 45,000 primary care medical, dental and mental and behavioral health professionals have served in the National Health Service Corps since its inception. The NHSC supports providers by awarding scholarships and loan repayment while the providers in turn commit to serving for at least two years at an NHSC-approved site located in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). Watch providers at work talking about what they do and the benefits to them and their patients.

For more information about health disparities, see:

Workforce Diversity

In 2004, the Sullivan Commission published Missing Persons: Minorities in the Health Professions, its landmark report on the lack of diversity in the U.S. health care workforce.

Since then, numerous authorities in the health care field have agreed that increasing diversity in the health care workforce is essential, if we are to effectively address the problem of health care disparities in the United States. Experts have identified several strategies to increase diversity, including improving primary and secondary education and changing admissions policies in health professions schools, including medical schools.

Find out more about health care workforce diversity:

Cultural Competence

Enter virtually any American health care facility, and you will see patients from all over the world struggling to negotiate the U.S. health care system and clinicians struggling to understand and meet their needs. But cultural competency is more than speaking another language. It means being aware of and responding to the sensibilities of patients whose cultures and values may be very different from your own.

In April 2000, the Commonwealth Fund awarded a grant to the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics “to create an educational tool that would bring clarity to the issue of cross cultural health.” The documentary film “Worlds Apart” follows four families of diverse backgrounds facing critical medical decisions and reveals how the patients’ cultures contrast with the culture of the American health care system.

Read more about cultural competency: