Study shows few Latinos in advanced-degree health professions

Dentist Latina Woman

Latinos and especially Mexican Americans remain very underrepresented in U.S. health professions that require advanced degrees, according to a recent study.

Researchers at George Washington University in Washington, DC, compared the representation of non-Latinos and four Latino subgroups in data compiled from the 2020 American Community Survey. They reported that Mexican Americans, despite being the largest Latino subpopulation in the U.S., are greatly underrepresented in health professions requiring an advanced degree. 

"There has been significant progress in getting more Latinos into the advanced health professions over the last few years," Edward Salsberg, co-director of the university's Health Workforce Diversity Initiative and study investigator, said in a news release. "Yet as we can see from this study, much more needs to be done to strengthen and diversify the health workforce in the U.S." 

The 2020 American Community Survey includes information on ethnicity collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. The researchers compared the representation of non-Latinos and four Latino subgroups, including Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, and other Latinos.

According to the findings, Latino representation in the health workforce improved during the time frame studied, which was from 2016 to 2020. Specifically, Latino representation among recent graduates increased from 6.7% to 13.5% for health professions requiring a bachelor’s degree. However, the researchers noted that Latinos represented more than 21% of the population age 20 to 35 (Health Aff [Millwood], July 2023, Vol. 42:7, 01348). 

While the authors noted that the analysis did not address why Latino representation was low in health professions requiring advanced degrees, previous studies provide evidence that the findings can be attributed to obstacles such as structural racism, they noted. 

In addition, the research showed a surprising finding for one subpopulation, Cuban Americans. Compared to other Latino groups, Cuban Americans are well-represented in health professions requiring an advanced degree, with representation among physicians and dentists being greater than their numbers in the overall population. 

Ultimately, a lack of diversity in the health professions can exacerbate health disparities for Latinos and other minority populations, Salsberg said.

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