Milken faculty launch tracker showing racial disparities in health care workforce

Media Credit: Danielle Towers | Assistant Photo Editor

The tracker identified physical therapy and physician assistants as the least diverse professions.

Faculty launched an interactive online tracker to analyze workforce diversity in 10 health care professions earlier this month.

The Healthcare Workforce Diversity Tracker, which is run out of the Milken Institute School of Public Health, displays a map outlining the diversity of graduates and health care workers, including nurses, dentists, therapists, physicians and pharmacists, in comparison to the diversity of the general population. The tracker’s map shows minority representation in health care professions is well below minority representation in the general U.S. population.

Edward Salsberg, a health services research professor at Milken and the head of the project, said the tracker reports data on the representation of white, Black and Hispanic professionals within the existing health care workforce and the pipeline to the professional industry, including health profession schools, like medical or dentistry institutions.

“The project’s overall long-term goal really for us would be to be the go-to data source for people who want to know how well the nation, how well states and how well are schools doing in terms of graduating and producing a diverse health workforce,” Salsberg said.

The tracker found that racial and ethnic inequality spanned across nine out of the 10 studied professions. Physical therapy and physician assistants represented the least diverse professions, and advanced practice registered nurses ranked as the most diverse.

The proportion of Black physical therapists is just 22 percent of what would match their representation in the general population.

When a viewer clicks on a state, they can see diversity index data for individual universities. Salsberg said the diversity tracker helps “motivate” schools and professions to increase outreach to underrepresented populations.

The tracker is part of the Health Workforce Diversity Initiative, a program within the Milken-based Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity, which studies how health care inequity can perpetuate disparities in the health care workforce.

Researchers received $185,000 in startup funding last August from the California Endowment, an organization that strives for social justice and health equity, and the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, which aims to advance education and training of health professionals, he said.

Salsberg said his colleagues created the database with information from the American Community Survey and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

He said the team plans to add about 15 professions and the option to view representation of Asian Americans and Native Americans over the next six months to make the diversity tracker more comprehensive. Researchers are engaged in a marketing campaign on social media to share the tracker with other organizations that have similar diversity goals, like the National Association for Community Health Centers, he said.

“I think it’s really critical because I think we build a great tool,” he said. “But if we don’t get the message out that people can get this information, then we aren’t getting the full value.”

Toyese Oyeyemi, a co-lead of the health workforce diversity initiative, said health care professions are among the fastest growing careers in the United States. Oyeyemi said ensuring that minorities have access to these well-paid professions will increase their “economic benefit,” which will allow them to invest more in their communities.

He said the tracker can introduce tracking and accountability for stakeholders to notice whether their institutions or communities are intentionally addressing diversity.

“We’re seeing that there’s some intentionality by institutions to actually address diversity in their community, and having this tracker can be a tool that should be able to support your efforts because you have to be able to measure what matters in order to know what kind of changes need to be created,” he said.

Erin Brantley, a researcher who helped write the methodology for the project, said the tracker will help “raise awareness” about health care fields, like physical therapy, that have low diversity but don’t get as much attention as fields like nursing and medicine.

“So we have the opportunity here to let people know more about some of the places where certain professions are really lagging behind,” she said.

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