The ongoing underrepresentation of Black physicians across the healthcare fields shows either "complicit exclusion or gross negligence," according to a trending commentary by a Johns Hopkins radiation oncologist published recently in a Journal of the American Medical Association.
In the commentary in JAMA Internal Medicine, Curtiland Deville, Jr., M.D.—who is a radiation oncologist—called the state of workforce diversity "suffocating." He pointed to data showing Black doctors made up only 3.6% of the full-time faculty and residents in the U.S. in 2018. Black doctors made up only 1.7% of radiation oncologists in that same year.
"I view this disproportionate underrepresentation of Black physicians as complicit exclusion or gross negligence," Deville wrote. "Moreover, it is perpetuated in many other fields, clinical environments, and health care organizations, particularly on the path to career advancement and leadership. This lack of inclusion and representation is oppressive and takes my breath away."
In his commentary, Deville describes his experience as a Black doctor and his discomfort with often finding himself "the only person who looks like I do, particularly in places of power and achievement."
"More perturbing is thinking about the rooms that I have not yet entered and the consequential decisions being made within them, knowing that no one like me may have ever had a seat at that table despite their clear deservedness, competence and unique insights," Deville wrote.
He calls for concrete steps, such as the dismantling of structural barriers through the creation and funding of partnerships and recruitment/pathway programs, as well as accountability systems in admissions and recruitment, bias training and pipeline expansion and retention.
"Successful diversity efforts are intentional and explicit, not happenstance or osmotic," he wrote.
His column comes amid a reckoning in healthcare amid a growing national conversation about racial inequality in the U.S., including the disproporationate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on non-whites.
Black and Latino people overall have been three times as likely as whites to get the virus, a New York Times analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows. Further, healthcare workers of color were more likely to care for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, more likely to report using inadequate or reused protective gear, and nearly twice as likely as white colleagues to test positive for the coronavirus, a study from Harvard Medical School researchers found.
The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates about 5% of practicing physicians in the U.S. are Black, while data show Black patients have better outcomes when treated by Black doctors, officials said in a statement.
In July, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, introduced a bill that would aim to earmark $1 billion to help diversify medical schools to close the racial health gap.
Last week, former New York Mayor and businessman Michael Bloomberg announced $100 million in grants to be distributed to medical schools at historically Black universities in a bid to increase the overall number of Black doctors in the U.S.