The No. 1 reason to promote diversity in healthcare is that it’s beneficial for all involved. Patients get better care and have better outcomes. Medical professionals feel better about their jobs. Facilities see improved bottom lines. Things just go better when there’s a diverse staff at healthcare facilities. Let’s examine why before getting into how to promote more of it.
As in any field, the more perspectives decision-makers consider, the more they can come up with creative new ways to tackle problems. As then-President Obama stated in the 2016 memorandum Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the National Security Workforce, “Research has shown that diverse groups are more effective at problem solving than homogenous groups, and policies that promote diversity and inclusion will enhance our ability to draw from the broadest possible pool of talent, solve our toughest challenges, maximize employee engagement and innovation, and lead by example by setting a high standard for providing access to opportunity to all segments of our society.”
If everyone in the boardroom or on the front lines of patient care comes from a similar background, they’re likely to think the same and continue with old practices. In a field like medicine, where treatments are constantly evolving, stagnation will put you behind.
“Studies show that students trained at diverse schools are more comfortable treating patients from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. When the physician is the same race as the patient, patients report higher levels of trust and satisfaction. The visits even last longer — by 2.2 minutes, on average. When patients enter our hospitals, they want to see staff members and physicians who resemble them,” Paul B. Rothman, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, wrote.
When doctors and nurses are more comfortable with their patients, and when patients are more comfortable with their caregivers, they receive better care and consequently have better health outcomes. They ask more questions, give more thoughtful and detailed answers, and each party has a better understanding of the goals of care. This is especially true when patients don’t speak English well and can communicate with caregivers in their primary language. Imagine all those people who dislike going to the doctor for one reason or another, then imagine how many more ailments could be caught earlier if those people felt comfortable going to the doctor. Diversity in healthcare literally saves lives.
Doctors and nurses like to see their patients thrive, obviously. For just about every single one of them, it’s probably the first reason they would give you if asked why they got into medicine. The better patient outcomes are, and the more their ideas are listened to, the more excited they are to come to work. That high morale leads to high staff retention. That promotes not only better continuity and higher standards of care, the lack of turnover is good for the facility’s bottom line. When a facility develops a reputation as a great place to work, recent graduates entering the field want to work there (as do seasoned professionals looking for a new opportunity), and those facilities can have their pick of the best talent.
Promoting Diversity in Healthcare
The above is by no means an exhaustive list, but it shines a light on how beneficial diversity in healthcare can be. Yet it can still be a major challenge turning medical facilities into bastions of diversity and inclusion. According to Association of American Medical Colleges data, only about 36% of U.S. physicians are female. In certain specialties, it’s fewer than 10%. Meanwhile, more than 90% of nurses are women. While 56% of U.S. physicians list their race as white, only about 5% list themselves as Black and 6% as Hispanic. Medical school, as we know, is not cheap. More than 75% of medical students come from the top two household income quintiles. Only 5% come from the bottom quintile. Among nurses, 20% are racial or ethnic minorities, well short of the 37% of the general population racial and ethnic minorities make up.
Scholarship funds and more STEM-based internships programs can help students overcome financial hurdles, which in turn will lead to a more diverse healthcare workforce. Actively seeking out talent from underrepresented communities helps, as does diversity training. When people of diverse backgrounds do come on board, institutions can make sure they’re listened to, not just hired to check a “diversity” box. As strategist Verna Myers says, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
The Verna Myers Company invites organizations and leaders to recognize and examine their biases and consider how they affect decision-making. Biases are unavoidable. We all have them, often unconsciously. They don’t make us inherently good or bad; they make us who we are. What’s important is acknowledging our biases and scrutinizing how they affect our decision-making. Once we’ve done that, it’s easier to keep what’s good and dispense with what’s bad.
Making diversity in healthcare an active part of your organization’s mission will keep it at the forefront. Form partners with outside organizations. Form a diversity council that meets and give recommendations regularly. Engage with the communities you serve. Diversity in healthcare is vital to patients and organizations.