Applying to Medical SchoolHigh School Students & BS/MDPre-Med Academics

Why Medicine Needs Diversity

Bringing unique perspectives into the treatment of patients

By: Eric Johnson

Algebra was the hardest subject for me early on in middle school.  In moments of frustration, I would gaze at the wall and contemplate my existence in the world, and algebra’s seemingly irrelevant place in it. In times of true bewilderment, I would envision myself talking to my neighbor about how to solve a math problem.  If given the option to work with my neighbor, I may have learned how some use mnemonic devices to remember equations.  I may have learned how others may write and rewrite laws in mathematics.  Another may speak out loud to family members to ensure retention.  I saw this diversity of thought and problem solving as more readily contributing to the success and persistence of students in algebra. The idea of multiple brains attacking a single problem appealed to me from very early on.

This diversity of thought and problem solving has real world applications outside a middle school classroom.  The same diversity of thought and problem solving is necessary in the equation of human health.  In 2007, the National Institutes of Health established a roadmap for addressing core health issues in the United States.  The roadmap highlighted the need for providers to fragment traditional, homogenous research groups.  In its place, new teams of interdisciplinary researchers are tasked with answering questions of health with expertise in medicine, public health, and community organizing.  This is a profound thought, as the NIH recognizes that homogeneity squashes innovation.  Barricaded, single discipline medical research may provide necessary answers without context, and public health researchers may desire the innovation of biomedical research.  The NIH’s new surge of diverse researchers are termed translational researchers as they are the groups successfully making the transition from bench to bedside. Given that the NIH is a publicly funded institute, research at the benefit or tax payers is a necessary effort.

Read More: The ‘D’ Word

Medicine needs diversity in more arenas than its system of investigation.  The United States is an incredibly diverse country. Pockets of multicultural hubs exist within every state in the union, making the patient population accessing health services very diverse. People immigrate to the United States from all parts of the world in pursuit of a life in which their values, culture and health are cherished. However, obvious differences in health exist for racial and ethnic minorities. Chronic, preventative disease such as Type II Diabetes and cardiovascular disease disproportionately burden Latinos and African Americans respectively.  Such disparities are answerable with a competent and multicultural health care workforce.  There is a growing body of evidence to suggest the patient physician concordance of race and ethnicity is a necessary aspect for achieving health.  Nevertheless, when in need of healthcare services, the diverse people in our country continuously interact with an alarmingly homogenous healthcare system.  To address such an issues, the National Institutes of Health has implemented a systematic approach to increasing the diversity within the biomedical workforce.  Increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of our practitioners and our researchers allows for people with a variety of life experiences to answer questions and treat conditions of people with highly diverse life experiences. Furthermore, medicine is eroding the practice of medical paternalism, or the idea that a health practitioner knows what is best for a patient at all times.  It is clear that patients can have well informed and valid thoughts about their health, but often they are not heard.  If we do not have the correct diversity of practitioners to hear the variety of ways a patient communicates, then we are hindering the achievement of health for our communities.

Humans and their internal biology are intricate and diverse like the algebraic expressions from elementary textbooks.  Humans are diverse in their ways of thinking, coping and the stories that shape who they are.  In healthcare, one goal is to understand these intricacies.  Another goal is to operationalize evidence-based care and techniques to uplift our fellow man and nourish their biological intricacies.  Given the complexity of the patient and disease equation, it is crucial that we increase the diversity of the practitioners seeking to solve it.  We need to turn to our partners in medicine and see a rich diversity of ethnic and gender minorities who can aid in digesting and advancing the health of our communities.

Eric Johnson is a pre-medical student passionate about addressing health disparities in communities of color-an area in which social justice intersects with scientific exploration. He was adopted from South America at birth and now lives in San Francisco, CA.  He loves to engage with other pre-med students about their unique journeys to medicine.


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