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General Health Public Health

Where Are Black Male Doctors?

Shortage of minority physicians may affect patient care

Too few minorities in this country are pursuing careers in medicine, causing a serious lack of diversity among general practitioners and specialty doctors, according to a new report.

For the study, researchers found that in 2012:

  • Blacks made up less than 4 percent of practicing physicians, 6 percent of trainees in graduate medical education and 7 percent of medical school graduates. The black population was 15 percent black in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Hispanics made up slightly more than 5 percent of practicing physicians, 7.5 percent of graduate medical education trainees and about 7 percent of medical school graduates. Hispanics are 17 percent of the U.S. population, according to 2013 census figures.

“My father graduated medical school in 1960, and at that time only 3 percent of doctors were black,” Wayne Riley, M.D., president of the American College of Physicians and a clinical professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, told Health Day. “This study shows 3.8 percent of doctors are black. Over a 50-year period, we are still nowhere near African American and Latino physicians representing their percentage of the population.”

These statistics paint a dire picture for patient care, experts say. Many minority physicians return to their home communities to treat people who otherwise might not be able to find a culturally competent physician. Studies show patients relate better to doctors who look like them, and physicians from the same racial or ethnic background as their patients may be more sensitive to a patient’s issues.

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The study did reveal that women have made significant inroads into medicine, representing 48 percent of medical school graduates and 46 percent of trainees in graduate medical education. Women also are the majority in seven specialties, including family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, dermatology and pathology. 

While this progress is good, the news is less promising for black males. “The number of black male doctors is dropping and has been for the past quarter of a century,” said Linda Rae Murray, M.D., of the University of Illinois School of Public Health, who wasn’t involved with the study. “We need programs to address this.”

The researchers suggested several solutions to the crisis, including exposing more young people to careers in medicine, providing more financial assistance and scholarships to allay the cost of medical school and promoting more diverse medical professionals to higher levels of responsibility within the profession.

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