IOM report asks schools to boost minority recruitment

Some medical leaders said practicing physicians need to be more involved in attracting minorities.

By Damon Adams — Posted Feb. 23, 2004

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A new Institute of Medicine report said health professions educational institutions should improve their admissions policies and practices to encourage more minorities to enter the medical profession.

Schools, private foundations and government agencies have worked to motivate more minorities to become health care professionals, the report said. But less attention has been focused on reducing institutional and policy-level barriers in training.

The report, released Feb. 5, recommends that educational institutions improve admissions policies to recognize the value of diversity, basing admission on a comprehensive review that includes considering ethnic background and language skills. Groups that accredit educational institutions should be more aggressive in developing standards that result in minorities working in health professions and should monitor the progress of member institutions in reaching that goal, according to the report.

"There is value to having increased diversity in the work force," said Lonnie R. Bristow, MD, chair of the committee that wrote the IOM report. "It's not just doing the right thing. It turns out to be the smart thing."

The recommendations were welcomed by minority leaders.

"You have to have a formal plan to achieve diversity. It just can't be words that say, 'We're for diversity,' " said Randall Maxey, MD, PhD, a Los Angeles nephrologist and president of the National Medical Assn., which represents more than 25,000 black physicians.

Jordan J. Cohen, MD, president of the Assn. of American Medical Colleges, said the report underscored the importance of diversity in the medical work force. But some recommendations, such as reducing barriers to education, already are being addressed by medical schools, he said.

"The recommendations in the report are efforts we have been well aware of," Dr. Cohen said, adding that medical schools could increase efforts to attract more minorities.

The report also said Congress should provide increased funding for programs effective in enhancing diversity, while state and local agencies support diversity through loan forgiveness and repayment and tuition reimbursement.

"Clearly the finance issue is a very big issue. Minority students have a disadvantage," said Joseph Betancourt, MD, MPH, an IOM report committee member and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Elena Rios, MD, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Assn., said practicing physicians need to be more involved in encouraging minorities to enter the profession. More physicians could go into schools to speak to children about their profession. Meanwhile, congressional legislation aimed at eliminating racial disparities also could include measures to build cultural competence among physicians.

Dr. Maxey said now that the IOM report spells out clear directions for schools, government agencies and others, it's time for action.

"It's doable. It's going to be a continuous effort," he said. "It should be part of the fabric of our country."

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External links

Institute of Medicine report, "In the Nation's Compelling Interest: Ensuring Diversity in the Health Care Workforce" (link)

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