The study, which looked at racial/ethnic diversity across 10 healthcare professions, found all three populations were underrepresented in both the current workforce and the educational pipeline. 

Black, Hispanic, and Native American people are underrepresented in the dentistry profession. A new study, conducted by researchers at George Washington University and published in JAMA Network Open, looked at 10 healthcare professions overall to assess the racial/ethnic diversity of the current healthcare workforce compared to the U.S. workforce as a whole. Additionally, the study looked at the graduate pipeline to evaluate whether “the diversity of the pipeline suggests greater representation of Black, Hispanic, and Native American populations in the future.” 

The cross-sectional study looked at data for dentists, advanced practice registered nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, physical therapists, physician assistants, physicians, registered nurses, respiratory therapists, and speech language pathologists. 

The researchers developed a healthcare workforce diversity index, where a score of 1 represents parity, or where the diversity of the U.S. workforce equals the diversity of the given health profession. 

The data showed that among the 10 professions, the mean workforce diversity index for Black people was 0.54, 0.34 for Hispanic people, and 0.54 for Native American people. When looking at the data for dentists, the researchers found severe underrepresentation. The mean workforce diversity index for Black dentists was 0.36, 0.31 for Hispanic dentists, and 0.09 for Native American dentists. 

The researchers then looked to the future, assessing the diversity index for the education pipeline. The mean education pipeline diversity index among the 10 professions was 0.54 for Black people, 0.48 for Hispanic people, and 0.57 for Native American people. For dentists, the index was 0.36 for Blacks, 0.46 for Hispanics, and 0.40 for Native Americans. 

Overall, the researchers assessed that the three populations are underrepresented across the 10 healthcare professions analyzed, and that while the educational pipeline data suggests improvement, additional policies are needed to create a workforce that is more representative of the population as a whole. 

The authors write, “A substantial body of literature suggests that fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce is critical to increasing access to care and improving aspects of healthcare quality among underserved populations.” They point out that studies have shown that physicians and dentists from underrepresented minority groups are more likely to practice in these communities. In addition, they write, “Some studies have suggested that a diverse workforce may improve healthcare professionals’ cultural competence and better prepare them to respond to the needs of the entire population.”