Did you know that less than 12 percent of medical students are Hispanic, African American, or Native American? By contrast, around 35 percent of the population in the United States consists of these minorities. This radical difference in reflective diversity results in significant setbacks for patient care, including issues of mistrust, translation difficulties, and lack of cultural understanding. Studies have shown that patients respond better to healthcare professionals with whom they feel some concordance, whether it be through race, culture, language, or gender. These patients are more inquisitive and more self-involved with their own health, leading to better long-term outcomes.
Notably, with the increasing presence of minorities in the U.S., there can be multiple different cultural attitudes toward healthcare. Among Chinese patients, for instance, there still remains a mistrust of xi yao, or “Western medicine.” It often takes a physician familiar with the Asian traditional mindset to be able to put these patients at ease. The affinity afforded by having a doctor who understands your cultural background may be invaluable, and can be the difference between a patient being willing to take her medications or simply throwing them in the trash on her way out the door (as I’ve witnessed firsthand).
Research also indicates that underrepresented minorities are more likely to go back and serve in their communities once they graduate. This is important, since this means that there will be more healthcare providers treating populations who are traditionally underserved in medicine.
In this modern era of global economics and cooperation, it is important that medicine does not fall behind. It is crucial for us to understand the medical practices and mindsets of cultures other than our own. All projections point to the fact that more than half of the American population will consist of people of color by 2050; our medical staff and knowledge should reflect this diversity. There should be a greater push for minority students to pursue a career in healthcare—a career, incidentally, that many minority students believe is unattainable. Notably, however, there are several programs that are actively working to increase the interest of minority students in participating in healthcare, including the Tour for Diversity sponsored by the Aetna Foundation.
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