Stark socioeconomic diversity gap exists across all races and ethnicities in U.S. medical schools

Stark socioeconomic diversity gap exists across all races and ethnicities in U.S. medical schools

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Published in JAMA Network Open, research by the University of Minnesota Medical School is the first to take a detailed look at the socioeconomic diversity of the national medical student body. This population represents the future physician pool in the U.S.

“In recent years there has been a significant focus on the diversity of medical students, but to date, most work has focused on ‘visible’ forms of diversity; such as race, ethnicity and gender,” said lead author and U of M Medical School student, Arman Shahriar. “This paper is the first to describe the socioeconomic diversity of the medical student body in the U.S., which is a more hidden form of diversity.”

In across medical schools nationally, the study found that:

  • High-income students are overrepresented in medical school, both overall and within each racial and ethnic group;
  • Black and Hispanic students remain underrepresented overall in medical schools, but high-income Black and Hispanic students are markedly overrepresented—even more so than their high-income white and Asian counterparts; and,
  • Low-income students are underrepresented across the board, with the exception of select subgroups of Asian-identifying students.

“There is an urgent need to diversify the physician workforce in the U.S.,” said Shailey Prasad, a professor in the U of M Medical School and executive director for the Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility. “This study clearly shows that we have a long way to go to achieve that in terms of socioeconomic diversity. I hope this study will prompt changes in administration processes lest our field continues to be primarily for those with financial means.”

In the U.S., low-income households are disproportionately Black and Hispanic for a myriad of reasons, most of which are rooted in structural racism. This reality poses a significant challenge given the high price of pursuing careers in medicine and the compelling national interest in creating a more diverse physician workforce.

“In our paper we discuss tools for assessing socioeconomic disadvantage that admissions departments across the nation should all be using,” said Shahriar. “The long-term path toward workforce diversity will require bringing socioeconomics into the spotlight, and more aggressive and upstream interventions by medical schools and organized medicine.”

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