Newswise — Women and members of various ethnic groups are still significantly underrepresented in the medical field of physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), with only 39.23 percent of current residents being women and 10.59 percent identifying as Hispanic or Black. Diversity gaps must be addressed in recruitment efforts in the future, according to a new study presented this week at the Association of Academic Physiatrists Annual Meeting in Orlando.

Gender and ethnic diversity in medicine and medical education programs improve health outcomes when there is race concordance between patients and their physicians, and patients report increased satisfaction with their care. Despite these widely-known facts, women and several ethnic minorities are greatly underrepresented across multiple medical specialties.

Is PM&R any exception? A group of researchers set out to answer that question by analyzing self-reported gender and ethnicity data from medical school matriculants and residency applicants obtained from the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) database, and current resident demographic data gathered from the American Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

The study was inspired by observations that women and ethnic minority groups are underrepresented across medicine, said co-author Grant A. Dixon, a PM&R medical student at the University of Texas McGovern Medical School in Houston.

“Our aim was to analyze the current state of PM&R diversity and identify where there may be any shortcomings in developing diverse physiatrists. There is a considerable amount of evidence indicating the clinical relevance of diversity in medicine shown through studies indicating that both health outcomes and patient satisfaction are increased in situations with physician-patient race and gender concordance,” says Dixon. Health outcomes are often worse for certain groups of ethnic minorities, he adds. “Previous efforts to increase diversity have so far been shown to be mostly ineffective. Diversifying the health care workforce to reflect patient populations is one solution to this continued problem.”

Dixon and his colleagues tracked demographic trends and found that over the past five years, only 34.76 percent of PM&R applicants have been women, the fourth lowest percentage among 11 medical specialties analyzed for the study. Women also made up only 39.23 percent of current PM&R residents. As for ethnic diversity, gaps persist too. Only 7.72 percent of PM&R applicants and 5.31 percent of PM&R current residents identify as Hispanic, and only 8.28 percent of applicants and 5.28 percent of current PM&R residents identify as Black. Data from the study showed significantly reduced odds for minority residents compared to Caucasians. While PM&R follows these race differences, no significant changes over the years were seen. Data from the study was recently updated to reflect refined statistical methods that created a more accurate test algorithm.

“Our results show a suboptimal environment for training and patient care. Academic medical centers must begin to recognize and rectify the historical and current impact of lack of diversity on health care outcomes,” says Dixon. “PM&R programs should consider adjusting their recruitment and marketing efforts to increase their diversity to match the increasingly diverse U.S. population that is on pace to become a minority-majority state within the next 25 years.”

 

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The Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP) is a professional society with a mission to create the future of academic physiatry through mentorship, leadership, and discovery. Its members are leading physicians, researchers, educators and in-training physiatrists from 35 countries. The AAP holds an Annual Meeting, produces a leading medical journal in rehabilitation: AJPM&R, and leads a variety of programs and activities that support and enhance academic physiatry. On March 4-9, 2020, the AAP is hosting the ISPRM World Congress in Orlando, Florida. To learn more about the association, the specialty of physiatry and the World Congress, visit physiatry.org and follow us on Twitter at @AAPhysiatrists.