The Lack of Black Doctors in the U.S. Isn't Just Disappointing—It's Dangerous

The Lack of Black Doctors in the U.S. Isn't Just Disappointing—It's Dangerous

Researchers say it’s a public health threat, and there’s a long way to go to fix historical exclusion in medical fields

A January report from the Association of American Medical Colleges celebrated the increase in women and people of color in medical fields based on data from 2022. But take a closer look, as CNN did in a story this week, and it's clear: Doctors who identify as Black or African American are still severely underrepresented in medicine.

Only 5.7 percent of U.S. doctors are Black, compared to the general population representation of 12 percent. (Hispanics are even less representative: 6.9 percent of doctors identify as Latino, compared to representing 19 percent of the population.)

CNN examined why minorities have lagged in medical fields. Systemic racism and historical exclusion from medical fields have played a part for centuries, but even today, admissions to medical schools and resources to get there are still not as accessible to Black communities, says Michael Dill, director of workforce studies at AAMC. Dill says improving admissions still won't solve the problem entirely.

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"That requires going back to pre-college—high school, middle school, elementary school, kindergarten, pre-K—we need to do better in all of those places in order to elevate the overall trajectory to becoming a physician and make it more likely that we will get more Black doctors in the long run," Dill told CNN.

Even when Black physicians make it through the gauntlet and get into positions as doctors, some say they still feel marginalized or don't feel like they fit in with the culture of their workplaces if those workplaces aren't diverse.

So what happens with regard to patients when there aren't enough Black doctors? Patients are less likely to seek medical care and get better care for infectious diseases, childbirth, chronic conditions, and other ailments. When a Black patient sees a Black doctor, their visits tend to last longer, they are more likely to advocate for themself and opt for preventative care and they could even prevent death by heart attacks. A study published in the American Economic Review found a staggering 19 percent difference in cardiovascular death between white and Black patients who were cared for by Black physicians.

Know a Black toddler interested in becoming a doctor? Encourage them early and get that kid a toy stethoscope, stat. We need them out in the field as soon as they're old enough.

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