The Power Behind Diversity in Medicine

The UK has a diverse population. The 2011 census stated there were over 4 million people living in the UK who do not speak English as their mother-tongue or their primary language. 140,000 people were recorded as not speaking English at all. This presents a unique situation for UK medicine, especially when you consider regional areas of patients you would see as a doctor. The concept of diversity in healthcare is goes beyond ethnicity and the possibility of language barriers to care. Each patient is grounded in culture, gender, sexual orientation, religion and socio-economic considerations; each of which needs to be understood when treating patients.

Successfully treating a diverse population needs a diverse healthcare community. A singular workforce views patients and their symptoms singularly and in 1 dimension. Diversity among doctors needs to begin in medical school; but not just limited to giving people places but harness inclusion. Inclusivity beets people through medical school and into the workforce. Verna Myers describes it perfectly:

“Diversity is the commencement of work, inclusion helps complete the task”

Verna Myers

Diversifying medical students doesn’t just benefit the patients. Studies show that students who train diverse medicals are more at ease with patients from a wide ethnic background. There were also studies that mentioned doctors from these schools stay longer with their patients, an average of 2.2 minutes. Students surrounded by increased diversity levels are often more satisfied with their experience. 

Medical schools in the UK are constantly improving their methods to accepting a more ethnic and gender diverse intake of students every year. There has been a steady rise in number of black and ethnic minority (BME) students and women have overtaken men to make up 55% of the medical student population. Whilst these states show a positive improvement, there is still a difference in undergraduate and graduate entry medicine statistics. 73% of GEM students identify as white. 

When we consider diversity we also need to look beyond ethnicity. It is a common understanding that the majority of medical students come from a high socio-economic background. I have witnessed this myself, though I would be interested to see whether socio-economic backgrounds may be different in graduate entry courses. Not only are there a reduced number of low socio-economic status students, they are also more likely to drop out of medicine within the first two years. I find this heartbreaking, we pride ourselves in saying that anyone can do anything, and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds often have a better incite to the concerns and daily realities of patients with similar backgrounds, patients who often need more support when they present in the healthcare system.

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Whilst successful steps have been made in giving more people access to medical school, improving diversity needs to look beyond admittance to medical school. Steps need to continue to ensure that every aspect of medicine is as diverse as it’s patients. Because having a diverse spectrum of medical students doesn’t ensure that speciality training is diversifying in the same way. This is why we need to be using the term widening participation, not widening access. We need to start looking beyond entering medical school and start thinking about training and the work place.

15% of female doctors reported that they trained on a less than full-time basis, compared with 2% of males.

Once of the most long term issues in medical training has always been women in medicine. Though more females are now studying medicine there are still stigmas about having women in some medical specialities. Orthopaedic surgery and Neurosurgery are both specialisms that are very much male driven and thought of as ‘old boys clubs’. Female doctors are still often mis-titled as nurses. Steps are being taken, specialities are starting to offer part time training in areas they wouldn’t before. It is allowing people with children (particularly women) to go in to specialisms that would otherwise be unobtainable to them. However, this hasn’t really taken as big a stride in diversifying as medical school admissions has. But slowly it is getting there and as these more diverse cohorts go into speciality training I hope that it will go some way to reducing the divisions. 

Diversity widens opinions. It makes better doctors. Diverse teams of healthcare professions, beyond just doctors, see things from a wider angle. The different points of view and creativity in ideas presented ensures better healthcare. It shares broader perspectives and teaches social skills, empathy and racial understanding in an open and honest way. Diversity within medicine is not something we should avoid talking about, yet it’s a topic we fail to bring up if we see an issue when training. It’s something not spoken about by healthcare proffessionals or patients; even though it’s something they want to see change.

It’s about time we spoke about it.

It’s the reason I started working with a widening participation group, startled interviewing people within my blog to show that it is possible for everyone to do medicine. I will be interested to see how some of the statistics change by the time I qualify and move into the speciality training phase of medicine. 

Do you have any opinions about diversity in medicine? Have you any stories to share?

Comment below or share your thoughts with me on Instagram.

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