Black and Hispanic populations continue to be underrepresented when it comes to the number of graduate medical education trainees, according to a new analysis. The study raises the question of whether fewer physicians from underrepresented minorities contribute to the health disparities seen among these groups.
A research letter published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine found that out of the more than 688,000 physicians practicing medicine in 2012, more than 9% were from an underrepresented minority, including 5.2% who were Hispanic and 3.8% who were black.
Of the more than 16,800 medical school students who graduated in 2012, 7.4% were Hispanic while 6.8% were black. By contrast, Hispanics accounted for more than 17% of the U.S. population in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, while blacks made up 13% of all Americans.
Researchers found that of the more than 115,000 physicians who underwent GME training in 2012, 7.5% were Hispanic while 5.8% were black.
“In 2012, women accounted for the majority of GME trainees in seven specialties,” researchers wrote. “In no specialties, however, were the percentages of black and Hispanic trainees comparable with the representation of these groups in the U.S. population.”
Blacks had the lowest percentage of physicians practicing in otolaryngology—ear, nose and throat—where they made up about 2.2% of the population, and highest in family medicine, at 7.5%, and obstetrics-gynecology at 10.3%.
Hispanic physicians were the least represented in the field of ophthalmology at 3.6%, and had the highest percentage in psychiatry at 9.3% and family medicine at 9%.
Such numbers represent a gap in terms of healthcare access that can have specific implications for minority populations, studies have shown.
Despite a high proportion of doctors practicing as obstetrician-gynecologists and in family medicine, the numbers fall short in terms of the proportion of physicians compared with the population.
A 2004 study from the Commonwealth Fund found that while blacks and Hispanics represented more than a quarter of the U.S. population, they made up less than 6% of doctors and 9% of nurses. Many studies have found that minority patients are more likely to be treated by a health professional from a different ethnicity, but reported greater patient satisfaction when visiting a doctor of similar ethnicity.
Also, physicians who are minorities are more likely to serve those communities. Addressing the need for more minority health professionals can help in dealing with the continued disparities in health outcomes seen within people of color.
Blacks and Hispanics reportedly have a higher prevalence of a number of chronic conditions compared with whites, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.