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December 5th, 2009
09:23 AM ET

Surgeon general calls for more minority health professionals

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

This week, Dr. Regina Benjamin, the new U.S. surgeon general, joined 550 health professionals, educators, executives, community health activists, patients and politicians at Morehouse School of Medicine's third annual "National Health Disparities Conference. The goal: to "focus on how to build a better health care system for all Americans" says Morehouse spokeswoman Cherie Richardson. Most of those in attendance are aware of the problems; they've been around for a long time. One of those problems is the lack of minority physicians and nurses. In her keynote address, Benjamin noted that the percentage of minority doctors has not risen in nearly 100 years. A 2004 report on health disparities, Benjamin said, found that although 25 percent of the nation's population is minority, only 6 percent of its physicians are minority. That's the same percentage found in the Flexner report, which was published in 1910. "There's something wrong with that," the surgeon general said.

I had no idea what the Flexner report was – so I looked it up. Abraham Flexner was a research scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He undertook an assessment of medical education in North America, visiting all 155 medical schools that existed in the United States and Canada.

It's hard to disagree with the surgeon general when she says there's something wrong with that. It is hard to believe that we have the same percentage of minority doctors and nurses in this country today, in a population of 300 million people, as we had a century ago, when the population was only about 92 million.

One theory of why the disparity exists was offered by Dr. John Ruffin, who heads the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. He told the gathering: “African American, Hispanics and Native Americans make up 31 percent of college population, but only account for 14 percent of life sciences graduates.”

Benjamin challenged the attendees to do their part to encourage more minorities go back to school and become nurses and doctors. "Our nation faces a growing ethnic and racial disconnect between those who seek care and those who provide that excellent care." Having more medical professionals tending to the needs of all Americans will help the country as a whole, she argued.

Are you a minority healthcare professional? How do you think this disparity can be changed?


Filed under: Caregiving

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Radhika

    What about Pharmacists?We need more pharmacists in the minority too...

    December 6, 2009 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Scott Vergano

    I'm a pediatrician in New Jersey and have partnered with a community -based organization called NJ SEEDS. Once a year for the past nine years, gifted eighth-grade students from low-income families come to the hospital on a Saturday for intensive shadowing and career discussions. All the kids have a great time, and it has been my impression that one or two of a group of thirty will be stimulated to pursue a career in medicine.
    Recent survey data confirmed my hypothesis–even when questioned up to eight years after Hospital Day, 8% more kids who were offered a Hospital Day plan to pursue an MD, compared with matched controls.
    I would love to spread this program. It's fun and easy to implement and a great inspiration for the kids. Any interest?

    December 6, 2009 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. GF, Los Angeles

    Really? Does it matter what race the doctor is treating you? How about we just focus on creating more doctors here in America instead of importing them from other countries?

    December 15, 2009 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Wyatt, South Bend

    The race of the doctor does not matter in treatment, the problem is that minority doctor's are far more likely to practice in poorer minority areas that need doctors. With so few minorities becoming doctors there is usually a shortage of medical professionals in these areas.

    December 16, 2009 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Claude

    Majority of low income families, may not be able to afford higher education or are afraid of the big school loan to pay back.

    December 16, 2009 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ibukun

    In response to GF, actually the race does matter. It is an established fact fact that minority populations get better care and have better outcomes when minority health care providers are involved in their care. This is not an indictment of white doctors. It has to do with issues such as access to care (minority providers are more likely to return to minority communities), patient trust (or distrust) of the medical system, better communication with patients, and a host of other similar issues.

    December 18, 2009 at 05:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Deja'

    I am and African American RN with my BSN and throughout my career I have noticed the lack of minorities when it comes to doctors and nurses and, given this is the 21st century, this fact seems sad more than anything else. I am not sure what we can do to fix this on a grand scale but I do think parents can do their part on the home front. Due to the disparity in socioeconomic statuses I wonder just how many minorites get the message that, although it can be a daunting task, they too can complete not just high school but college as well. The opportunities are there if they are willing to work hard and look for them.

    December 18, 2009 at 06:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. zalfonso

    The problem with minorities in the US begins with the residency programs. I know hispanic foreign medical doctors who have passed their board medical exams and have yet to receive a call for an interview. I also know many foreign medical doctors with years of experience who do not pass patient's note in the 2cs medical exam. They are not even aloud to request for their notes to be reviewed again. I believe that this is why we don't see minority MD's practicing in their field here in the US. I do see this as a serious problem, and been born here in the US I am truly embarrased for all these foreign physicians who study so hard to pass their medical test and cannot go to residency programs here in the US.

    December 18, 2009 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply

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