Minority Physicians Underrepresented in California, Study Finds
While blacks and Hispanics make up 40% of California's population, fewer than 10% of practicing physicians are black or Hispanic, according to a report released on Wednesday by the University of California-San Francisco Center for California Health Workforce Studies, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Fernandez, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/3).
According to the report, minority physicians are more likely than other doctors to practice in urban or underserved communities, which helps address health disparities between whites and minorities (Krieger, Oakland Tribune, 4/3). Kevin Grumbach, director of the Center for California Health Workforce Studies, said, "It's not just a civil rights issue, but a public health issue. Research shows clearly that having more minority physicians improves access to care for the U.S. population because they are more likely to take care of patients who have no insurance or who are covered by Medi-Cal." Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program (Griffith, Sacramento Bee, 4/3).
The report is based on data from the California Medical Board, after a 2001 state law mandated that the board gather data on physician specialties, work hours, ethnicity, practice location and spoken languages (East Bay Business Times, 4/2). Of the state's nearly 62,000 practicing physicians:
- About 39,000, or 61%, are white, while about 48% of the state's population is white;
- About 26% are Asian or Pacific Islander, while 11% of the population is Asian/Pacific Islander;
- About 3,300, or 5%, are Hispanic, while about 33% of the state's population is Hispanic; and
- About 2,000, or 3%, are black, while 7% of the state's population is black (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/3).
The study also found some disparities among the Asian population. For example, fewer than 0.5% of the total physician population is of Cambodian, Loatian, Hmong and Samoan descent (Darcé, San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/3). Experts attributed the disparities in physician ethnicity to court decisions that have blocked the use of affirmative action policies for admissions to state university medical schools, as well as the high cost of medical schools (Krieger, Contra Costa Times, 4/3).
The report recommended ways to boost the number of minority physicians, such as:
- Increasing investments in minority education;
- Promoting diversity in state medical education;
- Holding health professional schools accountable for their diversity, recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities; and
- Increasing incentives for working in underserved communities (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/3).
Claire Pomeroy, dean of the University of California-Davis School of Medicine, said that health disparities will persist unless the health work force becomes more representative of the population. She added, "Medicine is not just technical skills, but connections between doctors and patients. Those connections are made by having a diverse work force" (Sacramento Bee, 4/3).
The report is available online (.pdf). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.