The lack of diversity in medicine is an emergency: The way forward
On Saturday, September 28, Dr. Quinn Capers will deliver the ICRE 2019’s closing plenary lecture addressing the lack of diversity in medicine today, and thoughts about the way forward for educators and institutions. Dr. Capers is an interventional cardiologist, medical educator, and the Vice Dean for Faculty Affairs (formerly Associate Dean for Admissions) at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. His physician peers have voted him one of America’s “Best Doctors” annually from 2009 to 2019.
What can attendees expect from your closing address?
I’ll deliver the talk in four parts to make the case about why a lack of diversity in medicine is a problem and what we can do to fix it. I’ll review the facts and data around how a lack of diversity harms patients; how enhancing diversity can help patients; the reasons why we are not diverse; and share some thoughts on how we might enhance diversity in medicine.
Why is the issue of diversity important right now?
For decades, medical associations in the United States, Canada and many other countries have set goals to train certain numbers of diverse physicians by a certain year. We’ve used all kinds of cute slogans to brand these programs. But we haven’t achieved true diversity. I’m going to talk about why this is a serious problem and how we can begin to correct it.
“Emergency” is a strong word. Can you explain why you’re using this language?
The data tell us that not all populations with the same diagnoses are treated equally. This is specifically a problem for women and minorities who are underrepresented in medical professions. Those groups lag in every health statistic and survival statistic of major diseases that you could think of. For example, women and minorities who have heart attacks on average get a lower level of care than other patients, and have lower survival rates. The emergency is that people are losing their lives – sometimes heavily influenced by the fact we don’t have diversity in medicine.
What causes these disparities in treatment?
There are multiple causes. Diversity in the medical profession is being far outpaced by the increasing diversity of the patients we serve. That can lead to breakdowns in communication and understanding between doctors and patients, which can then lead to disparities in treatment. Sometimes doctors’ biases are explicit and show in sexism, racism and homophobia. But the data also show that our unconscious biases can hijack our good intentions. Unconscious biases against people who look a certain way or talk a certain way can lead us to make decisions that are harmful.
How will more diversity alleviate disparities in treatment?
With more diversity, we will increase the chance that we randomly match diverse patients with diverse doctors – and there are many benefits from sharing the same culture. But maybe more importantly, when doctors work together in a diverse environment, they gain cultural competence and cultural humility. That translates into better patient care. One good study shows that doctors who graduated from diverse medical schools rate themselves as more comfortable treating patients from diverse backgrounds than doctors who graduated from medical schools that were not diverse.
Who would most benefit by attending this plenary session?
Medical school senior leaders, admissions faculty and staff, residency program selection faculty, other physicians and health care providers – all of these groups will benefit from hearing about the impact of a lack of diversity in medicine and how we can work together to change the face of healthcare.