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America’s Healthcare Workforce – A Decade of Progress?

By Louis W. Sullivan, MD

Happy 2014! It’s hard to believe that almost 10 years have passed since the Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce and the Institute of Medicine published their seminal reports* recognizing the severe shortage of minorities in the health professions and focused on opportunities to increase diversity in America’s health professions education programs at all levels, across the country. The goal of these efforts was, and is, to increase the numbers of people from underrepresented and underserved communities as professionals in the nation’s health care system. These reports shaped many projects and programs within the academic community and government aimed at reducing these shortages. As Chair of the Sullivan Commission, I am proud that our work has helped to guide healthcare workforce development for the last decade.

Today the country’s demographics have shifted. One in three Americans is a member of a racial or ethnic minority, with African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and American Indians making up more than 30% of the nation’s population. For those under the age of 20, the percentage rises to 43%. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2043, there will be no majority population in the United States.

Yet, how many of this newest generation dream of a career in the health professions? Or live in a family or community committed (yet unable) to support the necessary educational, social/emotional, and financial path toward that future? Even with the ACA and today’s improved access to healthcare, is there sufficient federal focus to train health professionals who can serve all of the Americans who now access the health system?

This 10th anniversary year gives us an important opportunity to reflect on the last decade’s successes, bring continued deficits into national focus, and identify policy leaders who can further propel implementation of the original studies’ recommendations. In addition, we will examine how a decade of technological and societal change – everything from telemedicine and electronic health information sharing to online access, mobile technology and social media – could impact the next decade – offer new pathways to health professions’ careers and more dramatically reduce health disparities.

We look forward to working with our partners and colleagues around the nation to recognize these important anniversaries, as well as reflect on how we can increase the cultural competency of our health professionals and the size of the health workforce to further improve health status, access to healthcare, and health outcomes for those whose race, ethnicity and/or socioeconomic status are still associated with health disparities.

There is much work to do!

*Missing Persons: Minorities in the Health Professions(the Sullivan Commission) and In the Nation’s Compelling Interest: Ensuring Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce(the IOM’s Committee on Institutional and Policy-Level Strategies for Increasing the Diversity of the U.S. Healthcare Workforce).

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