People from every race, gender, age, and creed enter the hospital’s doors daily. To communicate with, understand, and treat this wide range of people, patients must see themselves reflected in the makeup of the health care workforce. A diverse workforce can lead to increased cultural competency for everyone and positively impacts patient treatment.
Social determinants of health—the conditions and environments in which people are born and grow—help us understand the factors affecting an individual’s health. For that reason, health care staff should be as diverse as the patients they treat.
A diverse workforce helps ensure that no matter who walks through the door, your staff will be able to relate to them, communicate with them, and better serve their particular needs.
U.S. Population Becoming Increasingly Diverse
The U.S. population is becoming more ethnically and culturally diverse. The Brookings Institute says this diversification process is occurring even faster than predicted. However, health care in the United States has a clearly underrepresented divergent workforce.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 64 percent of physicians are male, and 56 percent are white. Only six percent identify as Hispanic, despite this group making up 19 percent of the population. Also, only five percent of African-Americans are doctors, even though 13 percent of the population identifies as Black. Most NPs and PAs are female, but only a quarter are non-white.
There is obvious disparity among medical professional ranks and even more when compared to the general population, which testifies to the urgent need for greater workforce diversity.
What Is Workforce Diversity?
Workforce diversity in health care means having a workforce comprised of multiple races, ages, genders, ethnicities, religions, and orientations. In other words, a clinical and administrative staff that reflects the patients they serve.
It is a term best defined by the characteristics that make it up, such as:
- Gender Identity
- Sexual Orientation
- Veteran/military status
- Socioeconomic background
Risks from Lack of Workforce Diversity in Health Care
The lack of workforce diversity carries significant risk in the form of health disparities. Evidence shows that adverse health outcomes are caused by a lack of diversity resulting from factors, such as:
Communication breakdown. Language barriers lead to a lack of understanding regarding culture or socioeconomic status. As a result, patients fall through the gap because they don’t understand what to do when leaving the hospital.
Limited perspectives. Constrained points of view resulting from a lack of understanding about patients’ cultural backgrounds and why they may not be able to access care now or later pose a severe threat to population health.
Lack of role models and future diversity. Without adequate representation, it’s harder to foster future change.
Bias affecting patient care. Making assumptions without a basis for understanding can lead to implicit bias that may affect treatment decision-making.
Benefits of Workforce Diversity in Health Care
The many benefits of a diverse workforce outweigh and offset the risks caused by a lack of diversity. Benefits include:
Increased comfort levels. Patients and health care personnel feel less alone; diversity promotes a sense of belonging that helps in the retention of both parties.
Enhanced understanding and innovation. Each group (patients and medical staff) learns from one another, resulting in an expanded worldview that creates a growth mindset and culture open to innovation.
Reduced disparities. Greater affinity between staff, patients, and their families improves patient outcomes, particularly for minority groups.
Improved communication. Language barriers are transcended because people can communicate in their native language.
Greater trust. It’s easier for patients to trust someone who understands and respects who they are as a person, not just as a patient.
Diagnosis. Having a diverse workforce creates opportunities for medical staff to lean less on their biases which can often lead to an assumption to diagnose patients incorrectly.
The Path to a More Diverse Health Care Workforce
Health care organizations must prioritize the value someone brings as part of their hiring, including different viewpoints, understanding, and background. The good news: There is a stronger emphasis on workforce diversity in health care than ever before.
Case in point, a recent survey by the Institute for Diversity in Health Management, an affiliate of the American Hospital Association, found that 81 percent of hospitals educate all clinical staff during orientation about how to address the unique cultural and linguistic factors affecting the care of diverse patients and communities. In addition, 61 percent of hospitals require all employees to attend diversity training.
While this is a positive start, more progress must be made to ensure that no member of the U.S. population lacks excellent care solely due to ethnicity or related factors.
The health care industry must leverage everyone’s strengths to provide quality patient care. That includes establishing policies and programs to support all employees (not just the majority), building a culture of increased understanding, and encouraging individuals to use their various strengths to their advantage.
Employing a diverse workforce is a priority at SCP Health. We understand that treating all types of patients comprehensively and personally, regardless of their age, race, or other characteristics and backgrounds, means championing diversity and all it entails.