Graham Center Research

Family Medicine Faculty More Diverse Than Most, but Still Wanting

February 17, 2017 02:44 pm Michael Laff

Departments of family medicine employ a higher percentage of female and underrepresented minority faculty members than do those of other specialties as a group, but there is still a way to go before medical schools catch up with the nation's changing demographics, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care analyzed the number of women and racial and ethnic minorities in family medicine departments and compared that figure with averages among all other medical faculty.

The study, "Increasing Family Medicine Faculty Diversity Still Lags Population Trends,"(www.jabfm.org) was published in the January/February issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

From 1980 to 2015, the number of full-time family medicine faculty increased nearly fourfold, from 1,396 to 5,507 positions. The proportion of female and minority faculty in family medicine departments more than doubled during that period.

"The fact that FM departments are becoming more diverse is encouraging, given that primary care faculty are charged with training the source of first-contact, continuous, coordinated and comprehensive care for underserved minority patients," the researchers wrote.

Still, women and minorities hold a higher percentage of the lower-ranking faculty positions.

Women occupy 51 percent of family medicine assistant professorships and ethnic minorities hold 12.6 percent, a higher average percentage of both groups than is found among other medical faculty departments. But when it comes to full professor positions in family medicine, women occupy just 30 percent, and minorities occupy only 7 percent, according to data from the AAMC Faculty Roster.

Progress can be seen, but diversity among faculty still does not reflect that among the U.S. population as a whole, where ethnic minorities grew from 18 percent of the population in 1980 to 31 percent in 2015.

More rapid gains are being made in gender equality than in racial and ethnic diversity. More undergraduate students entering universities are female, and researchers noted that the majority of black physicians are female.

Imam Xierali, Ph.D., a senior researcher at the AAMC, told AAFP News that incoming minority faculty members could benefit from a mentorship program that offers assistance with writing grants and conducting research, two essential factors that determine eligibility for promotion.

Although the medical profession has pushed to expand the number of physicians, and several new medical schools have opened since 2003, overall diversity ratios have remained flat during that period.

A diverse faculty is important because incoming medical students say that diversity is a consideration when they select a school. It's particularly problematic that the proportion of minority faculty is lower than that of minority students who are entering medical school.

"We need to double down on our efforts regarding the value of diversity," Xierali said. "The population base is changing, and we need to acknowledge that."

Admittedly, achieving diversity will take longer among medical faculty than among the student population because of slow turnover, but that should not discourage family medicine departments and all other medical faculty from rededicating their efforts.

"Medical schools and academic FM departments may need to review their current practices and policies with an eye toward enabling more faculty diversity through institutional transformation and moving diversity from the periphery to the core of institutional excellence," the researchers wrote.

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