Diversity in health care coming too slowly for some

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Health experts urging more diversity in Michigan’s health care workforce may see graduation statistics from local universities as good news.
In the 2013-2014 academic year, more than a quarter of medical school graduates from Wayne State University and the University of Michigan – 27 percent and 36 percent respectively – were minorities, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set.
In that same year, according to the data, minority students constituted 37 percent of the graduating class at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry, up 68 percent from its preceding graduating class.

“Our goal is to increase the students that come from these areas around our city to be able to train and then serve in the communities in which they come from,” said De’Andrea Matthews, the director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Wayne State University School of Medicine. “And that’s necessary to reduce health disparities that impact our overall health.”
Matthews stresses the importance of outreach and recruitment activities with not just students at the K-12 level, but also for undergraduate students across the country. And many of the students the medical school recruits, according to Matthews, do stay in Michigan, practicing primary care.
Laura Wotruba, director of public affairs at the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said, “It’s important that we have a workforce that mimics their patient base. We have a diverse population in Michigan, which means we have a diverse patient population in our hospitals and certainly we want to see that diversity in our workforce, too.
“But it’s a bigger problem than just a hospital hiring people. We rely on our education system to train our workforce. It’s thinking about how we’re encouraging kids from all backgrounds to pursue health care careers.”
Nationally, Wayne State University and the University of Detroit Mercy rank 22nd and 18th respectively among the top 50 institutions for medical and dental degrees awarded to minority students according to an analysis by the magazine Diverse Issues in Higher Education.
The University of Michigan ranked 33rd in medical and 34th in dental degree lists.
Richard Lichtenstein, professor of health management and policy at the U of M School of Public Health, founded and directs its Summer Enrichment Program in health management and policy. The program works to attract students of color to health administration and health policy fields.
“The population is increasingly growing more diverse and in order to be sensitive to the needs of those populations,” Lichtenstein said, “we need health system executives from these populations.”
Universities are dealing with some obstacles, such as standardized entrance exams, according to Lichtenstein. “My belief is that most academic institutions are assessing the qualifications of applicants in a very narrow span of criteria. Those tests are not good at who’s going to be a great doctor leader out in the field.”
Wayne State’s Matthews says that the school’s biggest obstacle to diversity is the lack of scholarship funding to help students pay for medical school.
Health experts agree that Michigan’s health care systems will benefit from a business perspective if they tailor their services to meet the needs of their diverse patients. And a diverse workforce that can mirror the ethnic and racial makeup of community can be effective in gaining patients’ trust.
Data on race and ethnicity of the nursing workforce from the Michigan Center for Nursing show that the makeup of registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) doesn’t adequately reflect the profile of state residents.
Only 6 percent of active RNs in the state are African American, for instance, while African Americans make up 14 percent of the state’s population. Other minority groups, such as Asians, and Hispanics/Latinos, are also underrepresented in the RN workforce at 3.3 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

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