Were the United States not a country with a rich variety of races and ethnicities, let alone one that is rapidly becoming more diverse, the case for diversity in the health care workforce would arguably be moot. But the facts are clear: Our country is undeniably becoming home to an ever-increasing number of individuals from distinct racial and ethnic backgrounds. Census figures vividly document that our minority populations are increasing at a much faster pace than is the majority white population. Between 1980 and 2000, while the country’s white population grew by about 9 percent, the African American population increased by about 28 percent; the Native American population, by 55 percent; the Hispanic population, by 122 percent; and the Asian population, by more than 190 percent. 1 As a result, somewhere near the middle of this century more than half of U.S. citizens will be members of “minority” groups. 2 Figures from the 2000 census show that African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans already account for more than half of California’s population. Forty-five percent of Texans self-identify as members of minority groups, as do one in three residents of New York, New Jersey, and Florida.3
Recognizing these striking demographic trends does not in itself establish the case for diversity in the health professions. To do that would require convincing arguments that absent sufficient ethnic and racial diversity, the health care workforce would be unable to fulfill its fundamental obligations to the public: protecting, restoring, and improving the health of all Americans. The following discussion summarizes the arguments favoring greater diversity in the health care workforce, reviews results of previous efforts to increase the proportion of minorities in medicine, and considers the prospects for future progress in closing the still sizable diversity gap.