I believe that the only way to increase diversity in medicine and particularly dermatology is to begin this process early in school age children. Here's what I suggest.
When I was President of the AAD, one of my highest priorities was to develop an educational program that could help mentor younger dermatologists who might have an interest in developing organizational or academic leadership skills for the successful future of our specialty. With the assistance of many others, this turned out to be an extremely well-received program with excellent reviews. After having recently read several articles about the great disparity in representation by minorities not only in medical school but also in dermatology training programs and among the number of practicing dermatologists, I began to wonder if a similar type of mentoring program could be developed that would help improve the ethnic diversity in medical schools, dermatology residencies and ultimately among practicing and academic dermatologists.
After thinking about this for a while, I came to the conclusion that with some significant changes, especially starting early in the lives of minority children, this type of mentoring program could be modified to accommodate their needs. If one truly believes, as I do, that greater diversity improves the overall quality of every occupation by bringing new ideas, experiences and perspectives to the table, then this issue is certainly deserving of much greater attention.
How do we begin this process and what can we do to start moving forward? From personal experience, I know that a great deal of my success is a direct result of the encouragement and support I received early in life from my parents and family, and later by teachers, athletic coaches, employers, as well as a host of other people who served as role models.
As the first physician in my family, I did not have someone close who could serve as a role model or mentor to help me develop an interest in medicine. As I was growing up, it was my good fortune to have had contact with a number of physicians who unknowingly served as role models for me simply by their caring manner. While certainly not universally true, many minorities do not have the same opportunities I did when I was young. Furthermore, with the existing underrepresentation of minorities in medicine, many kids do not have the chance to see physicians with the same skin color as theirs. Thus, the opportunities to have role models that they can look up to and try to emulate are also reduced. Therein lies the dog chasing its tail part of this story:
How to simultaneously increase the number of minority physicians who can also serve as role models for younger minority children?
The unfortunate answer appears to be that we can’t do both things at once. As a consequence, this situation can only change using a unified approach of communication, education and volunteerism. Recognizing that this is a very complex and longstanding problem having elements of both discrimination and poverty helps explain why there will not be a “quick fix.”
The turnaround time is likely to require at least a generation of change and hard work to be effective, but we cannot give up because of that. I truly believe that the small size of our membership might be an advantage as we develop small manageable programs to implement change. As success is achieved it can be more easily measured than a huge program with so many moving parts it becomes hard to track. Additionally, the more beneficial parts of our plan can be easily measured and augmented by other larger groups to hasten the changes that will follow.
These are the basic elements of my proposal:
I realize this proposal may seem either incredibly naïve or like an impossible goal that will be exceedingly difficult to achieve. However, I believe that the only way to increase diversity in medicine and particularly dermatology is to begin this process early in school age children. By providing exciting and interesting information in a digital format that helps supplement the curriculum, we can capture their interest early and hopefully keep it. With the recruitment of a significant number of interested volunteer physicians acting as mentors and role models, the evolution can continue. This plan has the potential to be successful but only if it receives the attention and support it deserves.
If you agree that there is a great need for increasing diversity everywhere, but especially in medicine and dermatology, please get involved and do it now!