A recent study characterized racial and ethnic diversity in surgical faculty as “an elusive dream.” In a new study in JAMA Surgery, Oluwadamilola M. Fayanju and colleagues confirm little progress in the past decade, and point out that medical schools with more diverse surgical faculty saw another benefit: greater racial/ethnic and gender diversity in their medical students.

Researchers used data from 140 U.S. medical schools to assess trends from 2011 to 2020 in racial/ethnic and gender representation among surgical faculty and medical students. They focused on groups known to be underrepresented in medicine (URiM), including Black or African American; American Indian or Alaskan Native; Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish Origin; and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. Overall, they found higher proportions of women and underrepresented groups among medical students than faculty. Over the decade, female faculty increased from 19.1% to 24.6%, while the proportion of URiM faculty remained unchanged at about 11%.

When the researchers analyzed these trends, they found that having more URiM surgical faculty in a program was associated with more URiM and female medical students, but having more female faculty was not.

A physician workforce that reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of the U.S. population is critical to addressing health disparities and improving health care outcomes in this country. While medical schools successfully increased the proportion of women students (who now make up more than 50% of all medical students) they have not had similar success in increasing representation among URiM students.

This study helps us understand diversity in one specialty of academic medicine over the last ten years and highlights factors that may influence the career journey from medical student to attending physician. It suggests that by recruiting and retaining URiM faculty, medical schools may be able to improve representation among future generations of physicians and make the elusive dream more attainable.

The study, Trends in Racial, Ethnic, and Sex Representation Among Surgical Faculty Members and Medical Students in the US, 2011-2020, was published in JAMA Surgery on October 24, 2021. Authors include Alice Yunzi L. Yu, Yoshiko Iwai, Samantha M. Thomas, Georgia M. Beasley, Ranjan Sudan, and Oluwadamilola M. Fayanju.


Christine Weeks

Christine Weeks

Senior Manager, Strategic Relationships, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics

Janet Weiner

Janet Weiner, PhD, MPH

Co-Director for Health Policy, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics

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