Monthly Archives: August 2015

Engaging Youth for Our Future Health Care

patricia-bennett1In a series of four posts, we explore key issues raised by the Affordable Care Act and how we need more health care providers to meet the needs of the many new enrollees. In the third post made last week, we asked for your thoughts on how we can increase the racial/ethnic diversity of our health care workforce. This week, we conclude by exploring the importance of engaging youth at early stages about pursuing health care professions.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) pledged funding to support enlarging and diversifying our country’s current health care workforce. For example, it contributed $11 billion towards creating 350 additional community health centers and $1.5 billion to the National Health Services Corps to support a professional loan repayment program for providers working in underserved rural counties or inner cities. While these appropriations are important and necessary, they may not significantly increase the quantity and diversity of this country’s future health care workforce. In order to find long-term solutions for achieving adequate numbers and diversity of health care providers, we must start with implementation of fundamental reforms in our pre-college education systems.[1] We need to pursue strategies that create an interest in health care professions amongst our youth – especially youth of African American and Latino backgrounds. There is a critical need to increase the number and diversity of students pursuing careers requiring expertise in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), including health professions.[2] Creating and supporting pipeline programs for middle and high school students to pursue undergraduate and graduate STEM studies is imperative. Providing minority role models and hands-on experiences for young students will serve to demystify the health care fields and show youth the positive impact that they can have in their communities. What are some of your ideas for engaging youth in pursuing careers in health care services?

[1] http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/21/5/90.full

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4286884/

Diversity of Health Care Providers

patricia-bennett1In a series of four posts, we explore key issues raised by the Affordable Care Act and how we need more health care providers to meet the needs of the many new enrollees. In the second post made last week, we asked for your thoughts on how health care providers can be incentivized to practice in our country’s high-need areas. Next week, we explore some of the factors that lead individuals to pursue health care professions.

Research shows that access to and quality of health care services improves when the health care workforce reflects the racial, ethnic, economic, and cultural diversity of its patients. A diverse network of providers can better overcome language and cultural barriers that patients may experience when receiving health care services. Provider diversity improves access to health care for underserved patients – for example, African American and Latino physicians are more likely than White physicians to practice in underserved areas and treat larger numbers of minority and poor patients.[1] Moreover, when given a choice, racial and ethnic minority patients are more likely to choose and continue receiving care from health care providers of their own racial/ethnic background.[2] Despite this evidence, racial/ethnic disparities between our country’s patients and health care providers are extreme. Nationwide, African Americans comprise 13% of the country’s population, but only 4% of its physicians. Latinos comprise 17% of our total population, but only 5% of our physicians. [3] Amongst this country’s nurses, 83% are White and only 5% are African American. Policymakers need to be made aware of these racial/ethnic disparities and the impact they have on peoples’ health so that they can create policies and allocate resources that support the training and development of a more representative health care provider population. What are some of your other ideas for how we can bridge this diversity gap?

[1] Kington R, Tisnado D, Carlisle DM. Increasing racial and ethnic diversity among physicians: an intervention to address health disparities? In Smedley BD, Stith AY, Colburn L, Evans CH, (eds.). The Right Thing to Do, The Smart Thing to Do: Enhancing Diversity in the Health Professions. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

[2] Saha S, Taggart SH, Komaromy M, Bindman AB. Do patients choose physicians of their own race? Health Affairs. 2000; 19: 76-83.

[3] http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html & http://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2011/rwjf71998