Even as minority populations within the United States increase at a rapid rate, more than half of current medical school students are white—perpetuating medicine’s history of underrepresented minorities. Why that matters, and what can be done to tip the scales, was the topic of a recent panel discussion on the WGBH show “Basic Black.”

The episode featured Partners HealthCare physicians Ariana Vora, MD, an Integrative Rehabilitation Physician at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital; Imoigele Aisiku, MD, MBA, an Emergency Medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and Numa Perez, MD, a clinical fellow in Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. All shared their experiences as physicians in a field that often looks different than themselves.

“My [medical school] class of four students of color out of 400 total at the school was considered a large number,” said Dr. Aisiku. “And those are roughly the same numbers as where we are now. There’s still lots of work to do.”

The panelists examined the significance of a physician population that doesn’t reflect the patient population at large. “Whenever we engage with our patients, they have to trust us to take the medications or regimens we recommend,” continued Dr. Aisiku. “And we naturally have more trust when the person across the room looks like us.”

As physician diversity increases, added Dr. Perez, unconscious biases can be chipped away. “As you start surrounding yourself with providers who look different, you have the opportunity to shed those unconscious notions that may not even match your expressed ideas,” he said.

One way to build such bridges, suggested Dr. Vora, is to walk a mile in a person of color’s shoes—literally. “As a rehabilitation medicine resident, I was part of a program where we spent the day living and working from a wheelchair,” she said. “You like to think you’re empathetic, but this gives you some real perspective on the challenges of those going through their day with spinal cord injuries. “We have to find that same perspective when it comes to diversifying the medical workforce.”

Watch the episode of “Basic Black” here.

Banner image via WGBH.

Topics: Health Professions

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