When we specifically define a challenge, we’re more effective addressing it. For 20 years, Cal Wellness has proven that as we named the need to grow and diversify the health workforce to provide more culturally competent care and connect Californians with good jobs.
Now we must name, and effectively address, another specific problem: the too-small number of Black and Latinx doctors in California.
More than 6 percent of Californians are Black, but only 3 percent of the state’s doctors are Black. Latinx Californians are 40 percent of the state’s population, but only 7 percent of our state’s doctors identify as members of the Latinx community. If graduation rates of Latinx medical students continue at current rates, it will take 500 years to reach some parity with California doctors.
The time is now for new solutions to diversify the California health care workforce. And the good news is that there are smart, passionate people at medical schools across the state working to do just that.
Our commitment to ensuring that California’s medical professionals reflect and understand their patients’ experiences runs deep: For more than two decades – and as part of our long-standing work on furthering racial equity and racial justice – Cal Wellness has invested in bold efforts to racially diversify the health workforce. We know this approach not only addresses the persistent issue of physician scarcity, but significantly improves health outcomes for patients. That’s why we are focusing Cal Wellness’ attention and resources on the institutions that bring people into this profession: medical schools.
Too often, medical schools are not set up in a way to assure student success, particularly those from underrepresented communities. Isolation, imposter syndrome and financial pressures can prevent students from achieving their potential. Unconscious bias and unfair evaluation can also hold back aspiring medical professionals. Although medical schools aren’t solely responsible for closing the racial gap, they have substantial power, credibility, resources and responsibility to make it happen.
We all know that there is no one issue that perpetuates racial underrepresentation. And we’ve learned that while system change can be the most challenging, it is often the only way to make progress.
That’s why we continue to invest in programs that prepare underrepresented students for medical school. To name a few:
- Charles R. Drew University (CDU) is challenging entrenched inequities in health care by recruiting, educating and empowering underrepresented minority students to pursue careers in health. Part of our Economic Security and Dignityportfolio, CDU was created in response to the 1965 Watts uprising in South Los Angeles. The university is located in South Los Angeles with a vision of creating a world without health disparities. CDU is the second-most diverse university nationally in terms of student and faculty diversity.
- California Medicine Scholars Program focuses on recruiting, advising and supporting community college students interested in medical careers. One of the goals behind this program is to grow the number of physicians working in underserved communities, and the best way to achieve this is to develop aspiring physicians from these communities.
- MiMentor is a grassroots, student-led network that empowers underrepresented groups in medicine to realize their dream of becoming healthcare professionals. MiMentor creates innovative and unique mentorship opportunities to support minority students towards careers in the health profession. MiMentor creates a safe and inclusive space for DACA students, shares resources and educate the mentor and mentee community how to advocate for the undocumented community.
- University of California-Merced, the first American research university of the 21st century, carries out the university's mission of teaching, research and service. As a key tenet in carrying out this mission, UC Merced promotes and celebrates the diversity of all members of its community.
There is much work to do, and collaborations with partners like these gives us hope that we will make meaningful progress. We encourage fellow funders to learn more about the importance of diversifying health care professions and how they can support the organizations that are helping to make this ambition a reality.
At Cal Wellness, we will continue to move the dial toward a racially representative workforce of doctors and other health care providers in California. We remain committed to equal access to the pathway of becoming a health care professional to create economic mobility, culturally competent care and a system where everyone truly has an opportunity to succeed – and be well.