U.S. Health Care Professions Separate and Unequal
Sullivan Commission: Lack of diversity may be greatest cause of health disparities
A lack of diversity among health care professionals is placing the health of at least one-third of the nation at risk. This fact was among findings announced recently by the Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce in its report, “Missing Persons: Minorities in the Health Professions.”
“Access to health professions remains largely separate and unequal,” said Commission Chairman Dr. Louis W. Sullivan. “We know that minority physicians, dentists and nurses are more likely to serve minority and medically underserved populations, yet there is a severe shortage of minorities in the health professions. Without much more diversity in the health work force, minorities will continue to suffer.”
From cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS to diabetes and mental health, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and American Indians tend to receive less and lower quality health care than Whites, contributing to higher mortality rates. The consequences of health disparities resulting from the lack of an adequately diverse and trained work force may be as great a problem for minorities as is the lack of health insurance for more than 44 million Americans.
“The condition of the nation’s health professions work force is critical and demands swift, large-scale change to protect the future of the nation.
Transforming the system will require changing the face of the American health care system,” the report states.
The 16-member commission calls for a new vision for health care focusing on excellence and ensuring equality of high-quality care for all. Three overlying principles are central to the commission’s findings.
1. To increase diversity in the health professions, the culture of health professions schools must change. Colleges, universities, health systems and other organizations must examine the practices of their own institutions.
2. New and nontraditional paths to the health professions must be explored. Major improvements in the K-12 educational system are needed but health professions schools cannot remain stagnant while these improvements take shape.
3. Commitments must be made at the highest levels. Change can happen when institutional leaders support change.
The report also identifies 37 specific action steps including:
• Shifting the financing of health professions education from student loans to scholarships;
• Reducing dependency on standardized testing for admission to schools of medicine, nursing and dentistry;
• Enhancing the role of two-year colleges in preparing students for a career in the health professions; and
• Substantially increasing federal funding to support diversity programs within the National Health Service Corps, and Titles VII and VIII of the Public Health Service Act.
The Sullivan Commission is comprised of health, business, legal professionals and other leaders. The independent commission was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and is administered by the Duke University School of Medicine as part of larger efforts to address the problem of diversity in health professions.
For more information, visit <www.sullivancommission.org>.
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