Only 5.7% of US doctors are Black, a threat to America’s public health
Only about 5.7% of physicians in the United States identify as Black or African American, according to the latest data.
This statistic, released by the Association of American Medical Colleges, does not reflect the communities they serve, as an estimated 12% of the US population is Black or African American.
And while the proportion of Black physicians in the US has risen over the past 120 years, some research shows, it’s still extremely low.
One reason why the percentage of US doctors who are Black remains far below that of the US population that is Black can be traced to how Black people have been “historically excluded from medicine” and the “institutional and systemic racism in our society,” said Michael Dill, the Association of American Medical Colleges’ director of workforce studies.
A deep-rooted history of racism in medicine
Many US medical schools have a history of not admitting non-Whites. The first Black American to hold a medical degree, Dr. James McCune Smith, had to enroll at the University of Glasgow Medical School in Scotland.
Smith received his MD in 1837, returned to New York City and went on to become the first Black person to own and operate a pharmacy in the United States, and to be published in US medical journals.
In 2008, the American Medical Association, the nation’s largest organization of physicians, issued an apology for its history of discriminatory policies toward Black doctors, including those that effectively restricted the association’s membership to Whites.
In 2021, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared racism a “serious public health threat.”
The nation’s shortage of Black physicians is concerning, experts warn, as it contributes to some of the disproportionate effects that infectious diseases, chronic diseases and other medical ailments have on communities of color. This in itself poses public health risks.
For example, in the United States, Black newborns die at three times the rate of White newborns, but a study published in 2020 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that Black infants are more likely to survive if they are being treated by a Black physician.
And when Black patients receive care from Black doctors, those visits tend to be longer and have higher ratings of patients feeling satisfied, according to a separate study of more than 200 adults seeing 31 physicians, published in 2003 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.