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Archive October 2020 XXI, No. 10

Diversity & Inclusion

Why Representation Matters

Cherisse Berry

Cherisse Berry, MD, FACS


GREATER AWARENESS A diverse care team has the cultural understanding and ability to effectively interact with patients of different ethnicities.

Creating more diversity within academic surgery requires a targeted, long-term and dedicated approach. It's a worthwhile goal. Eliminating long-standing racial and ethnic disparities and inequalities will improve access to surgical care for increasing numbers of diverse patients who feel more comfortable with providers who have a greater understanding of their background, culture and life experiences.

The changing face of America

The racial breakdown of the nation's population is drastically different than it was 50 years ago, when 80% of the country's residents were white. By 2060, the percentage of white Americans will be closer to 47%. The growing diversity in communities has to be represented in the surgical workforce, which should reflect the make-up of the patients they treat.

Research shows half of medical school students and residents believe Black patients feel less pain than white patients. Other studies have shown that healthcare professionals have implicit biases in terms of positive attitudes toward white patients and negative attitudes toward patients of color. Increased representation among healthcare providers would lessen the impact of implicit or explicit bias, and foster a greater understanding of cultural and language differences that will ultimately have a positive impact on patient care.

Unfortunately, a diverse healthcare workforce is not being trained. Consider the landscape in top medical schools over the last 20 years. Under-represented minorities make up 10% of graduates from surgical residency programs. The percentage of Black male graduates is on the decline and the percentage of Black female graduates continues to hover at or around just 2.5%.

Achieving an equal playing field among surgeons of the future demands changing the demographics in the field of academic surgery today. Medical schools must increase the pipeline of underrepresented groups by training a diverse workforce and should be intentional in promoting minority faculty members to leadership positions in academia. Of nearly 3,500 professors of surgery, 10 are Black women. Of 337 chairs of surgery, two are Asian women, two are Latina women and none are Black women. In fact, there has yet to be a Black woman to ascend to the role of department of surgery chair. Educating and training a more diverse workforce will eventually filter throughout entire health systems, and down to the frontlines of care.

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