Health still lacks diversity



According to a report released this week, a severe lack of racial diversity persists in healthcare professions — mainly medicine, nursing and dentistry. The report, put forth by a commission headed by former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan, stated that colleges and universities will be important in reversing the trend.

A Yale-wide effort to better recruit minorities has also gained visibility in recent years. At both the Yale School of Medicine and Yale School of Nursing, efforts are underway to counteract the national trend by both increasing awareness of the need for diversity in healthcare and actively recruiting students to the fields. Former Yale School of Nursing Dean Catherine Gilliss — who took over as dean of the Duke School of Nursing this year — formed the Diversity Action Committee, a program that, since its inception, has been expanded to all of Yale to attract students and faculty of diverse backgrounds.

“The committee is made up of students, faculty and staff, with programming that celebrates diversity, and Yale and teaches students and faculty about diversity that may effect their practice,” said Yale School of Nursing spokesman Ilya Sverdlov. “Now we work as a University-wide committee to provide diversity education and training to all departments at the university.”

Forrester Lee, assistant dean of Multicultural Affairs, said the Yale School of Medicine with the aid of its Office of Multicultural Affairs, has long worked to enroll diverse classes and direct students into academic medicine to meet the national need for minority faculty members.

“The observation [10 years ago] was that at that point, the pool of people available to enter into faculty ranks was only beginning to grow, and Yale needed to nurture its contribution to that pool of young minorities in training,” Lee said.

Nancy Angoff, assistant dean of student affairs at the School of Medicine, said diversity at the school is important in helping future healthcare providers better serve diverse populations, and the New Haven community specifically.

“New Haven is an amazingly diverse city,” Angoff said. “I think it’s crucial that people be aware of the fact that we’re taking care of lots of different kinds of people. That helps us be better doctors to diverse populations as well.”

Yale has historically ranked in the top five medical schools nationally for graduating the highest proportion of students pursuing careers in the academic medicine. But while the Yale School of Medicine has enrolled classes representative of the nation’s diversity since the 1970s, Lee said minority enrollment in U.S. medical schools has not changed substantially in over 20 years.

“When you look at the statistics for medical schools across the country, it’s clear that the medical profession — is falling far short of goals for diversity,” Lee said. “In the wake of some issues surrounding affirmative action in the past years, some schools have become more conservative in their attitudes towards being inclusive and expanding the number of minorities of medicine.”

The Yale School of Nursing is faced with similar, worrying national trends, including an overall shortage of nurses in the United States.

“Here in the Northeast, it’s estimated that by 2020, we will have about 50 percent less nurses than are needed — to provide adequate care to patients in Connecticut,” Sverdlov said. “It’s compounded by the fact that there are few nurses from minority backgrounds, both as nurse practitioners and faculty members.”

Much like the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing has concentrated its efforts on attracting students to health care. Focusing on specific, diverse communities, several projects are in place to counteract this shortage of minority nurses, including a successful educational program in New Haven public middle and high schools.

In addition, the School of Nursing is involved in the Yale-Howard Partnership Center to Eliminate Health Disparities, a coordination program with Howard University, where 95 percent of undergraduates are minorities. It was the first program of its kind funded by the National Institutes of Health, and now exists in various forms at a dozen other schools.

Since the program’s inception six years ago, 75 percent of participants have chosen to pursue their graduate degrees in nursing.

“To better provide healthcare to diverse populations, you really have to have nurse researchers from diverse backgrounds,” Sverdlov said. “Nurse researchers who come from those backgrounds — can better understand the unique challenges that those communities face.”

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