Underrepresented — it’s a term you’ll come across often as you explore health care schools and careers. But what does underrepresented mean exactly? The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) defines it as “those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population.”
Who is Underrepresented?
Because there are shifts in population, underrepresented populations change over time. The AAMC emphasizes a focus on this continued evolution to best serve all populations. Before adopting its current definition of “underrepresented in medicine,” the association focused on a fixed group of four racial and ethnic groups (“Blacks, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans and mainland Puerto Ricans”). The new definition recognizes a wider range of underrepresentation to better address the far-reaching problem. Still, while they are growing, the numbers of underrepresented students in health profession schools are far lower than they should be.
What Can You Do?
Medical students can make a difference as tomorrow’s health care providers, but you don’t have to wait! Consider volunteering at a free clinic to help increase access to care for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access or afford it. Along with providing services on a daily basis, the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NAFC) holds one-day C.A.R.E (Communities Are Responding Everyday) Clinics that provide over 1,000 uninsured patients with medical care and help connect the underserved to additional health resources.
Choosing to practice in an underrepresented area, or in a field that is less glamorous but more impactful, is another option. Understanding why diversity matters in health care and keeping this in mind as you choose your career path can turn the tide of health care disparities.