Source: NJTV News
The U.S. is heading for a shortage of physicians, even in a state as well educated and populated as New Jersey. Particularly in need: minority medical professionals who some argue can best meet the needs of diverse communities.
“If you look at the admissions to medical school itself, it doesn’t reflect the population at all,” said Dr. Patrick Beaty, chief medical officer at Metropolitan Family Health Network.
African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans make up a quarter of the U.S. population but only 6 percent of doctors, according to the Association of Medical Colleges.
“They’re working behind a curve. Essentially, a lot of this didn’t come out until, unfortunately, my time in the ‘80s and ’90s when they began to talk about diversity,” Beaty said.
The result: under-representation in doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals while the number of newly insured people — especially Latinos and African-Americans — skyrockets, thanks to expanded coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
“I don’t look typically Hispanic, so when I walk in a room and I address the patient in Spanish and start speaking, there’s an immediate relaxation. You can just see it in their face,” says National Association of Hispanic Nurses New Jersey Chapter President Gina Miranda-Diaz.
“Their whole body relaxes and they quickly start saying all the things that they want to say. I’ve noticed at times when I go in and I don’t speak right away, they’re just kind of sitting there, pulling their sheet closer because they really don’t know how it’s going to be addressed,” said Marie DiTommaso, certified nurse-midwife at Metropolitan Family Health Network.
The doctors and nurses we spoke with said you need a diverse group of medical professionals to care for a diverse community. But they said getting people into the medical field can be difficult. “They work very hard. They go to school for a very long time. And they owe a lot of money,” said Registered Nurse Vivian Delvalle.
The average debt among medical students in the U.S. tops $175,000. And if that doesn’t deter would-be students: try 10-plus years in school before even starting work.
Beyond the money and the time, health care workers we spoke with said there’s no pipeline for minority students. Racial and ethnic minorities are projected to grow to more than half the U.S. population by the year 2050 while their representation in medicine declines.
“Yesterday I had a Latino with her child here and I’ve seen the young lady grow up over time, over the last five years. She’s an adolescent now. And I always ask them, what do you want to be? And interesting enough, this one said, ‘I want to be a Supreme Court justice.’ I said, ‘Go ahead. Do it. Live your dreams,’ because that’s what we need to do is try and encourage people to live their dreams,” Dr. Beaty says.