Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A more diverse health care workforce will help us improve care for minorities

Trust and understanding between health care professionals and their patients is absolutely critical to ensuring that the patient gets the most appropriate and effective care.

But for patients of diverse backgrounds, differences in language, culture and ethnicity can be barriers between them and the health professionals who care for them.  Research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that when patients are treated by health professionals who share their language, culture and ethnicity, they are more likely to accept and adopt the medical treatment they receive.

The problem is that the number of health professionals from multicultural backgrounds is disproportionately low compared to the overall population, according to the American Medical
Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges. For example, while about 15 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic/Latino, only 5 percent of physicians and 4 percent of registered nurses are Hispanic/Latino. About 12 percent of the population is African American, yet only 6 percent of physicians and 5 percent of registered nurses are African American.

To foster a more diverse health care workforce, United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative awarded $1.2 million in scholarships in the 2012-2013 school year to 200 students from diverse backgrounds. 

Here in Pennsylvania, I’m proud to say that we had two outstanding students win scholarships. 

Shelah McMillan
Philadelphia resident Shelah McMillan is a senior at Thomas Jefferson University School of Nursing and intends to become a nurse practitioner.  Shelah had worked as an accountant for a decade before deciding to devote her career to health care. Her goal is to serve as an educator and advocate for healthier lifestyles, bridging the gap between the medical jargon of physicians and patients from underserved communities.

Vivienne Meljen
Vivienne Meljen of Scranton, PA is a 2013 Truman Scholar beginning her first year of medical school at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, pursuing both a Doctor of Medicine and a Master of Public Health degree and specializing in internal medicine and rural health. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Scranton with a minor in modern Spanish.  Vivienne currently serves as a volunteer and Spanish translator at the Leahy clinic, a free clinic for the uninsured in Scranton.  She intends to begin her career as a rural internal medicine physician in an underserved rural region of the U.S.

In addition to receiving financial awards, Shelah and Vivienne attended the fifth annual Diverse Scholars Forum, which brought more than 60 scholarship recipients to Washington, D.C., July 24-26 to celebrate the scholars and inspire them to work toward strengthening the nation’s health care system. The event gave Vivienne, Shelah and other future health care professionals, the opportunity to meet and interact with members of Congress and leaders from a variety of health care fields.

Congratulations, Shelah and Vivienne!  I wish you all the best as you help our health system better serve all members of the community.

United Health Foundation’s diverse scholar recipients making connections
with other healthcare students and professionals at the
Diverse Scholars Forum held in Washington, DC. 

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