Why Diversity is So Vital in the Healthcare Workforce Today

The importance of diversity in healthcare and how mentoring can help.

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The United States has often been described as a “melting pot” of cultures. In addition to the indigenous people who have lived in the region for centuries, the country has continuously attracted immigrants from all walks of life, many of whom move here in hopes of building a better future. So why isn’t that incredible diversity represented in our healthcare industry?

With all the diversity in the United States, there are still some stark inequities within the healthcare system. That’s a huge problem since healthcare is a service that everyone needs. Diversity in healthcare is vital for ensuring that our system is equitable, innovative, and effective for people of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, ages, and abilities.

Building up diversity within the field of medicine is currently one of the most pressing objectives healthcare leaders face. Getting there should be relatively simple—but it won’t be a fast or easy process.

Physician & Nurse Demographics Tell The Real Story

Much as we’d like to believe we’ve made meaningful progress in moving diversity initiatives forward, the data doesn’t back it up. Sure, we have got to the point where technically anyone can go to school and become a healthcare professional—but there are many invisible barriers that limit diversity within healthcare, including social, economic, and cultural factors.

The statistics paint a sobering picture: AAMC reports that in 2018, 56.2% of American physicians identified as White. Only 5% of physicians were Black, and just 0.3% of all doctors were American Indian or Alaska Native. Additionally, while there are more women becoming doctors each year, men still hold the majority of medical degrees. In nursing, the disparities were found to be even greater. In 2018 73.3% of registered nurses were white, and nearly half were 50 or older.

When patients rarely see doctors and nurses from similar backgrounds as themselves, it sends a message that doesn’t encourage trust. The doctor and patient may struggle with communication and understanding, which can lead to serious errors. Additionally, there is a lack of diversity in mentorship, which affects perceptions and stereotypes among healthcare providers and makes it harder for minority providers to succeed.

Why Diversity Matters in Healthcare for Patients


Everyone deserves to receive high-quality healthcare, delivered with respect and compassion. Unfortunately, a lack of diversity continues to drive health disparities that take their toll on the health, longevity, and dignity of underserved groups. This is one of the main reasons why pushing for more diversity in the field is so important.

Unfortunately, unconscious biases work their way into patient interactions and may cause some patients to receive inadequate care, impacting their outcomes and overall health. Not being taken seriously by a healthcare provider can have devastating consequences, both emotionally and from a care perspective.

Professional Benefits of Diversity

We know why diversity is important from a patient’s perspective. But it’s also crucial for creating strong and efficient workforces that encourage empathy and creativity. Diverse workforces have many benefits, including perspectives that foster innovation, reduce turnover, and improve efficiency.

These benefits have been well-established at this point, yet so many organisations still struggle to successfully create a truly diverse and inclusive workplace. There are many ways a lack of diversity can affect an organisation’s healthcare delivery. For example, doctors whose colleagues have similar backgrounds to their own may not be able to bounce ideas off of them and get the fresh perspectives needed to improve their diagnostic skills and properly help patients. Nurses working only with people similar to themselves may struggle to provide proper care to a diverse patient population. These are just a few of the pitfalls that can occur when diversity is ignored.

Issues like racism and sexism can occur in the healthcare system between patients and their providers or between colleagues. That’s why it’s so important for healthcare organisations to have clear policies and a culture of inclusion to protect employees and patients alike. Mentoring is a key component in diversity as well—up-and-coming doctors and nurses must have access to diverse mentors who can help them navigate the industry and unlock their full potential.

A Problem We Can’t Ignore

In healthcare, decisions are often life and death. Errors and misunderstandings can lead to suffering or even preventable deaths. People who work in the field are almost universally compassionate and dedicated to their patients, but without dedication to diversity and solid mentorship practices, we won’t be able to guarantee that every patient will receive the care they deserve.

Although the solution is simple, we can’t expect improvement without concentrated action. Healthcare organisations must commit to improving their hiring practices, policies, mentoring programs, and work culture. Society must understand the barriers preventing so many diverse candidates from applying to medical school and address them, so the workforce can become more representative of the population in all areas of the country.

It’s long past time to see these changes in the industry. As a nation, we need to know with confidence that when someone walks into a doctor’s office or hospital, they will be receiving the best possible care and respect. 

Author Bio

Abby Thompson has worked as a young adult education consultant for the past six years. Her passion is to teach future generations about diversity, equity, and inclusion and the impact they can have on business success.

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