Breaking Barriers for Underrepresented Minorities in the Health Professions


Christopher Toretsky, Sunita Mutha and Janet Coffman

July 30, 2018

In spite of the United States’ racial and ethnic diversity, the health care workforce remains predominately white, particularly in professions that require doctoral degrees. This has a real and negative impact on both patients and health professionals. Diversity in the classroom can translate into more empathetic and compassionate health care delivery in the clinic. Patients also often have higher levels of trust and satisfaction with health professionals who have similar racial/ethnic backgrounds. This report summarizes the known barriers to increasing the numbers of underrepresented minorities (URMs) in health professions, presents a framework for recruitment and retention of URM health professions trainees and provides examples of strategies for increasing the number of URM health professions trainees in California.

Barriers for Underrepresented Minorities in Health Professions  

  • Cost of education 
  • Lack of academic preparation to meet admissions requirements, especially for doctoral degree programs (e.g., MD, DO, DDS, PharmD)
  • Lack of concordant mentors
  • Stereotype threat
  • Limited exposure to health careers
  • Poor advising 

A Comprehensive Approach to Increase Diversity of the Health Professions 

After identifying many barriers to increasing the number of URMs in the health professions, it is clear that no single solution can address all of them. A comprehensive and multi-faceted approach should implement strategies based on a framework with the following components:

  1. Form institutional partnerships among K-12 schools, colleges, and professional schools e.g., nurturing potential applicants, creating summer enrichment programs, and coordinating curriculum
  2. Provide tailored student support e.g., tutoring, access to counseling, scholarships and mentorships
  3. Engage faculty e.g., involve faculty with engagement of graduate prospects, hire URM faculty and mentors

The report also contains specific recommendations for educational institutions, funders and advocates.

Learn more in the full publication.