Why Representation STILL Matters in the Medical Field

A guest post from Dr. Joshua W. Moore.

“Unless we address the inequities in our healthcare system, the health disparities that exist today will not only persist but will worsen.”

– Dr. David Satcher, former Surgeon General of the United States

This statement underscores the critical link between diversity, equity, and addressing healthcare disparities. It highlights the need for a diverse healthcare workforce to actively contribute to the improvement of overall healthcare outcomes, especially in marginalized and underrepresented communities. At present, roughly 14% of the U.S. population identifies as Black/African-American, however, less than 6% percent of medical doctors in the country are represented in the demographic. 

And even fewer are surgeons. 

Studies estimate that less than 2% of surgeons in the United States are Black.

This underrepresentation of Black physicians in the healthcare system is a significant concern and is a factor contributing to healthcare disparities in Black communities. The data indicate that having more Black doctors has been linked to better patient satisfaction and outcomes, particularly for Black patients. 

My name is Dr. Joshua Moore, and I’m a board-certified general surgeon practicing minimally invasive and acute care surgery in South Florida. I’m also the medical director of Holistic Theory, a practice focusing on finding wellness at the intersection of traditional healing practices and modern medical science.

The Impact of Diversity in Healthcare

To say that I have first-hand experience with the impact of diversity (or lack thereof) in my field would be an understatement.

Health disparities illustrate this challenge most clearly, both on an individual level due to inherent bias and on a macro level driven by public health and economic policies. The greater issue, however, is truly multifaceted and is pervasive in many aspects of the healthcare industry.

While there is less available data on the ways representation impacts the career trajectory and job satisfaction of people of color in healthcare, we can all describe, at least anecdotally, just how important representation or the lack thereof has played a role in our experiences.

I am sharing my perspective and experiences to shine a light on how the other aspects of under-representation in the medical field if not acknowledged and addressed, may derail promising careers before they get started.  My story is personal and highlights my specific journey, but I can’t help thinking that others in my position have had to overcome similar struggles.

Navigating Professional Challenges

I landed my dream job fresh out of general surgery residency. I homered my first at-bat, or so I thought.

In the division of general surgery, I was the youngest person and only Black surgeon across the entire five-hospital health system.  I felt constantly misunderstood and out of place, and struggled with finding a safe person whom I could ask for help.

In my attempts to prove my value, I constantly overextended myself, which paradoxically led to decreased effectiveness and job satisfaction at work, and strained relationships outside of work. This became a vicious cycle, spinning me into burnout rather quickly. I struggled to find my place for several difficult years, through the end of my initial contract, which marked the end of my tenure at my first hospital.

After years of time for reflection, I have come to accept my role in how things played out. Yet still, I understand that with the right mentor, someone who had the incentive to provide guidance and feedback, my experience could’ve been considerably more fulfilling and lasted much longer.

Addressing Bias and Building Trust

Most people of color in America experience being approached in a store by someone who assumes they’re an employee or there to serve in some capacity. If you’re a physician of color in America, someone has likely mistaken you for a nurse, patient transporter, food service employee, or custodial staff.

These assumptions of role are usually not malicious and are often rooted in an individual’s past experiences and conditioning. Whether that conditioning creates stereotypical ideas about how doctors should look, or inherent biases about the capabilities of certain groups of people, it is often harmful to both sides of the patient-physician relationship. In some extreme cases, patients may even self-sabotage by refusing to participate fully in their own care, or by demanding another physician.

Increased representation in the medical field directly challenges these biases and is vital to fostering trust and rapport between healthcare providers and patients from various backgrounds.

Empowering Diversity in Medicine

a diverse group of physicians for representation in the medical field

Diverse medical professionals bring unique perspectives and experiences, ensuring a more comprehensive understanding of patients’ needs and cultural nuances. My interactions with patients of color, especially those with lower socioeconomic standing and/or health literacy, demonstrate this. Patients often express genuine gratitude when I communicate with them in ways that other doctors have not. Likewise, cultural competence in the medical profession is enhanced when practitioners reflect the diversity of the populations they serve. Because I’m intrinsically aware of Black folks’ generations-long mistrust of the medical community, I understand that skillfully navigating through that mistrust is often a very important aspect of effectively caring for Black patients.

When a patient believes their medical professional is their advocate, it encourages them to participate more fully in their own care, which results in improved patient outcomes.

a doctor talking with an older patient

As a result they:

  • Schedule preventative maintenance and screening appointments because they feel empowered to make decisions based on the results.
  • Take their medication because they understand how it works and why it’s important.
  • Show up to follow-up visits because they trust that their doctor has their best health interests in mind.

Going forward, I’d like to see a more robust pipeline for Black physicians to enter the field and thrive as medical professionals. We need POC involved in every step along the way, from pre-med advising, medical school and residency admissions, career planning, job recruitment, contract negotiation, business coaching, and leadership and C-suite training. Every POC physician should have a mentor, and be a mentor, with a heavy emphasis on providing new attendings with access to high-quality mentorship. Support of Black medical professionals, however, doesn’t have to come specifically from other medical professionals. The need exists, and there is space for businesses and other organizations to take on this work of promoting the current and preparing future medical professionals for success.

Finally, make sure to compensate physicians of color adequately for their expertise. Provide them with fair opportunities for upward mobility within the industry to facilitate the growth of the pipeline from within. A financial incentive always goes a long way to attract and retain talented individuals, and the medical field is no exception. This creates the types of role models that inspire upcoming generations. (speaking to how financial success attracts others, as does sports and entertainment).

Is there anything I would ask readers to do?

  • Encourage the youth in your world to consider a medical career. Address their concerns of being in debt or spending their fun years studying (these things are real investments, but can lead to a fulfilling career).
  • If you have a business that provides a service that can be useful in bolstering the pipeline in any of those areas, consider marketing your services to medical professionals and future medical professionals.
  • Create a business in support of Black physicians.
  • Write a grant in support of an already existing pipeline program.
  • Support Black Business.
    • If you’re looking for a new PCP or specialist, spend an extra few minutes looking for a Black doctor. If you have a Black doctor who you love, promote their business on social media and refer your friends and family to them.
    • Invest! Venture Capitalist some money towards a black doctor’s practice.


Image by Konstantin Kolosov from Pixabay