The nation’s population is quickly diversifying, making racial/ethnic disparities in health care outcomes even more apparent. Minority and non-English-speaking populations have grown and may become a majority in the next generation.1 A proposed strategy to reduce disparities in health care is to recruit more practitioners who better reflect the patient populations.2 Improved access to care with racial concordance between physicians and patients has been reported.3
Being increasingly aware of access-to-care data, more patients are advocating and asking for physicians of color to be their providers.4 Despite progress (ie, more women entering the medical profession), the proportion of physicians who are underrepresented in medicine (URiM—eg, Black, Hispanic, and Native American) still lags US population demographics.3
Why diversity in medicine matters
In addition to improving access to care, diversity in medicine offers other benefits. Working within diverse learning environments has demonstrated educational advantages.5,6 Medical students and residents from diverse backgrounds are less likely to report depression symptoms, regardless of their race. Diversity may accelerate advancements in health care as well, since it is well-established that diverse teams outperform nondiverse teams when it comes to innovation and productivity.7 Finally, as a profession committed to equity, advocacy, and justice, physicians are positioned to lead the way toward racial equity.
Overall, racial and gender diversity in all clinical specialties is improving, but not at the same pace. While the diversity of US medical students and residents by sex and race/ethnicity is greater than among faculty, change in racial diversity has been slow for all 3 groups.8 During the past 40 years the number of full-time faculty has increased 6-fold for females and more than tripled for males.8 However, this rise has not favored URiM faculty, because their proportion is still underrepresented relative to their group in the general population. Clinical departments that are making the most progress in recruiting URiM residents and faculty are often primary or preventive care specialties rather than surgical or service or hospital-based specialties.8,9 ObGyn has consistently had a proportion of URiM residents (18%) that is highest in the surgical specialties and comparable to family medicine and pediatrics.10
When examining physician workforce diversity, it is important to “drill down” to individual specialties to obtain a clearer understanding of trends. The continued need for increased resident and faculty diversity prompted us to examine ObGyn departments. The most recent nationwide data were gathered about full-time faculty from the 2021 AAMC Faculty Roster, residents from the 2021 Accreditation Counsel for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) Data Resource Book, medical student matriculants from 2021 AAMC, and US adult women (defined arbitrarily as 15 years or older) from the 2019 American Community Survey.11-13
Increase in female faculty and residents
The expanding numbers of faculty and residents over a 40-year period (from 1973 to 2012) led to more women and underrepresented minorities in ObGyn than in other major clinical departments.14,15 Women now constitute two-thirds of all ObGyn faculty and are more likely to be junior rather than senior faculty.9 When looking at junior faculty, a higher proportion of junior faculty who are URiM are female. While more junior faculty and residents are female, male faculty are also racially and ethnically diverse.9
- ObGyn is a leader in racial/ethnic diversity in academic medicine.
- The rapid rise of faculty numbers in the past has not favored underrepresented faculty.
- The rise in ObGyn faculty and residents, who were predominantly female, has contributed to greater racial/ethnic diversity.
- Improved patient outcomes with racial concordance between physicians and patients have been reported.
- More patients are advocating and asking for physicians of color to be their clinicians.
- Racial/ethnic diversity of junior faculty and residents is similar to medical students.
- The most underrepresented group is Hispanic, due in part to its rapid growth in the US population.
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