UnitedHealth to invest $100M in diversifying healthcare workforce

The United Health Foundation, the philanthropic arm of UnitedHealth Group, will invest $100 million over the next decade to drive a more diverse healthcare workforce.

Patricia L. Lewis, the company's chief sustainability officer, said at the Social Innovation Summit on Wednesday morning that diversifying the healthcare workforce pipeline has dual benefits: Patients treated by doctors who understand their lived experiences experience better outcomes, and a shortage of key clinicians is looming.

"We don't have enough people entering the workforce," Lewis said. "Given all of what we've been through in the last few years, you can see just how taxing that will be on the healthcare system."

The investment is the single largest contribution ever made by United Health Foundation and will provide scholarships and support to 10,000 clinicians from underrepresented communities. The program will back 5,000 new students, with a focus on primary care, as well as support 5,000 clinics that want to progress careers in medicine, nursing, midwifery, mental health and other specialties.

Black and Hispanic people make up about 30% of the U.S. population but only about 10% of the healthcare workforce, Lewis said. Data suggest patients who are treated by doctors of the same ethnicity more readily trust their doctors and see better outcomes.

For example, Lewis said, Black women are four times more likely to die from complications related to pregnancy compared to white women, and Black newborns have a mortality rate three times higher than white newborns. However, when they are treated by Black women, mortality rates can be reduced by as much as 50%, she said.

The effort falls under UnitedHealth's broader bid to address health equity. UnitedHealth Group has also invested $10 million to support data science training at historically Black colleges and universities as well as teamed with nine organizations to provide scholarships to more than 3,000 diverse students through its Diverse Scholars Initiative.

"Our mission is to make the health system better for everyone, and health equity is squarely in the middle for that," Lewis said.