In a landmark study in 2002, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) confirmed that health care disparities are directly related to the perceived ethnicity of patients. For a variety of reasons, the report found that the quality of care differed when there was a discordance of culture or ethnicity between the provider and the patient. In 2004, the IOM published In the Nation’s Compelling Interest: Ensuring Diversity in the Health Professions, in which it called for a more diverse workforce as a measure to decrease health disparities. The rationale for diversity included the following:
- Racial and ethnic minority health care providers are more likely to serve minority and medically underserved communities, thereby increasing access to care
- Racial and ethnic minority patients report greater levels of satisfaction with care provided by minority health professionals
- Racial and ethnic minority health care providers can help health systems in efforts to reduce cultural and linguistic barriers and improve cultural competence
- Diversity in higher education and health professions training settings is associated with better educational outcomes among all students
Physician assistant educators and their national organization, the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) are committed to provide PA students with the tools needed to provide patients with culturally and socially sensitive health care. The Committee on Ethnic and Cultural Diversity (CECD) is charged with leading this effort for our profession. The CECD has promoted Cultural Competencies for Physician Assistants and has a website with resources and modules for teaching cultural competence. Its members and supporters have provided presentations on health literacy, culturally competent care, the unequal delivery of health care, stereotyping and institutionalized racism in health care, and workshops on facilitating the teaching of culturally competent health care. The Journal of Physician Assistant Education has a section dedicated as Cultural Perspectives. Several articles by PAs on cultural competence and health care disparities have been previously published and an article on unconscious bias of health providers is due to be published in our next issue.
Some of our research projects include the diversity of PA students and faculty, especially the number of Underrepresented Minorities in Medicine; recruitment and retention efforts of minority students and faculty; and best practices in the teaching and evaluation of cultural competency. We are eager to work jointly with other groups in an effort to promote diversity in our profession and improve the training of our students.