Physician Recruiters Put New Emphasis on Diversity
In October of last year, New York State announced a plan to supplement the traditional work of physician recruiters with more comprehensive state-funded diversity initiatives. In February of this year, New York City Health and Hospitals announced their own approach, Medical Opportunities for Students and Aspiring Inclusive Clinicians (MOSAIC), made possible largely by philanthropic donations. According to the program’s literature, MOSAIC “will work with students ranging from middle school through graduate medical education, as well as attending physicians, to increase diversity in medicine.” Methods include programs for visiting scholars, youth training and targeted recruitment programs that may prove a compelling influence to healthcare staffing agencies nationwide. So why is diversity recruitment such a priority?
According to a 2018 study, African-American men live an average of 4.5 fewer years than their white counterparts. A disproportionate occurrence of chronic disease suggests that preventative measures could make a significant difference in mortality rates. Though measures to promote more accessible care are sure to better the statistics, a growing compilation of data suggests that a more diverse base of health care providers could be of key importance.
For example, A 2008 study from the Annals of Family Medicine compared patients’ perceptions of themselves, perceptions of their providers and outcomes to discover that a sense of similarity was the main predictor of strong patient-physician relationships. Having a sense of belonging to the same group as their physicians led patients to feel higher levels of “trust, satisfaction, and intention to adhere” to recommendations. Ten years later, a study from Stanford University shored up the previous findings, determining that preventative health measures were 20% more likely to have an impact when the patient was advised by a doctor of the same race or ethnicity. The problem? The CDC reports that over “30% of New York’s population is black or hispanic, but only 12% of physicians represent those demographics.”
Physician recruiters are increasingly focusing on methodologies like those of MOSAIC and the State of New York. Here’s what they’re learning about the groundwork underway that may change the landscape for healthcare staffing agencies.
Healthcare training programs admit students according to definitions of “merit,” which are predominantly measured by standardized tests and grades. Positive rankings, therefore, are often lacking in minority populations due to “socially determinant factors” such as a disproportionate incidence of food and housing insecurity, low access to quality education and a lack of advancement opportunities.
Scholars aligned with diversity initiatives suggest that the definition of “merit” should be altered to place value beyond traditional metrics. By “counting” things like unique experiences, backgrounds and skills, as well as the academic context from which an applicant comes, selection committees are more likely to evaluate minority candidates in an equitable fashion. This approach would allow for a more diverse pool of applicants, which can in turn lead to a more accurate representation of the population within the medical field.
All humans are vulnerable to bias (hence, the term “implicit”). But anyone can learn to overcome these tendencies to further the goal of fair treatment among all groups. Implicit bias can influence the entirety of the medical recruitment and selection processes. Screening applications, assessing interview responses and making final decisions might be affected by prejudiced views based on gender, race, place of education, physical features (like clothing style, color of skin, hair type and age and weight) or religion. Conducting interactive workshops given by experienced moderators who provide methods to reduce bias may result in a more varied pool of chosen candidates. Experts suggest that trainings should be widely available to professionals in charge of candidate selection, whether in an academic setting or among teams at a healthcare staffing agency.
At each level in the medical field, decision-makers should engage in active recruitment of a diverse range of applicants, connecting with Hispanic-serving institutions, historically black colleges and tribal colleges to form pathways for recruiting. Before implementing these efforts, or alongside them, organizations could have initiatives to promote a welcoming atmosphere such as organization-wide conversations about the value of diversity or cultural sensitivity training for faculty members or staff at medical recruitment companies.
A physician recruiter or academic committee may also find it beneficial to arrange or attend virtual or in-person recruitment fairs with diverse student organizations. Clinical leaders should also have a formal mechanism for recruiting their own residents and fellows from diverse backgrounds into faculty positions and helping them transition smoothly into the role.
Increasing the number of talented medical students from diverse backgrounds requires outreach during early years of schooling. Structural and racial biases often lead those from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds to drop out of school altogether. Some academic medical centers have programs which provide assistance with community outreach, giving faculty and health professionals the chance to encourage these children to thrive despite any obstacles in their path. Clinical skills laboratories are an ideal location for high school students to participate in supervised activities that can help prepare them for future medical studies. Medical schools, teaching hospitals and medical recruitment companies might form programs affiliated with, but independent of, medical schools to introduce high school and younger students to medicine.
In medicine and higher education, diversity is a value-added proposition that must be accepted by senior leadership, recognized and compensated and continuously supported. Academic medical centers will fall short of their mandate to improve the human condition if they do not find ways to enhance the diversity of the healthcare workforce. Physician recruiters can prepare for a future of more diverse candidate pools by gaining a full understanding of the factors that influence decision-making in terms of both outreach and organizational attitudes towards diversity recruitment.