As a neurologist, I often see patients who say they are experiencing “soreness.”
Having grown up in Taiwan until the age of 12, I recognize that, while other physicians may interpret that to mean a muscle ache, I know that for some cultures it can also mean pain. That is one approach I bring to my work as a neurologist, and I know that culture and ethnicity inform my work and passion for medicine.
As we celebrate our physicians this Doctor’s Day on March 30, I am reminded of the importance a diverse physician workforce has in providing culturally competent healthcare to the members and communities we serve.
In today’s evolving healthcare climate, one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is the need for more physicians who reflect the demographic makeup of the communities they serve. By 2050, racial and ethnic minorities are projected to account for half of the U.S. population, with African Americans and Hispanics among the fastest-growing segments of the population.
Medicine is becoming more diversified. About 33 percent of the nation’s physicians are women. Asians make up about 12 percent of the nation’s nearly 1 million physicians, according to recent data from the Association of American Medical Colleges; African Americans about 8 percent. These are good changes, to be sure, from my early days as a physician. But there is much work ahead.
A diverse physician workforce is critical to providing culturally competent, high-quality care to patients. Many patients feel more comfortable receiving care from a physician who speaks the same language, understands their culture and recognizes their values and desires about health and well-being.
It’s one of the reasons I decided to pursue a career in medicine. My parents always stressed the importance of getting an education and how that can lead to a better life. I saw my uncles pursue careers in medicine and give back to the Asian community. I wanted to do the same.
I see patients of all ethnicities and racial backgrounds. I recognize a comfort level when I interact with my patients who are Asian. For example, I find they often feel more at ease when speaking to me about more traditional Eastern medicine techniques, such as using acupuncture for pain relief.
Research on providing culturally competent care suggests that patients and physicians who share the same racial and ethnic backgrounds spend more time discussing healthcare needs, which leads to increased patient satisfaction, better adherence to medication and improved healthcare outcomes.
Recognizing the need for a more diverse physician workforce is one of the reasons why Kaiser Permanente is opening The Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine in Pasadena in 2019, where physicians-in-training will be immersed in an environment of cultural and economic diversity.
I also believe it’s important to encourage younger students to pursue careers in medicine.
Last summer, I had the privilege of being a physician mentor to a high school student in the University of California, San Francisco Doctors Academy program. This program, for students interested in careers in medicine and the healthcare profession, gives them an in-depth look at a medical career as they work alongside physicians for five weeks.
This exposure is valuable at this age, when students are beginning to think about a future career. It’s important for these students – many of whom are the first in their family to go to college – to see physicians with various cultural and ethnic backgrounds interacting with patients.
I never had an experience like that when I was growing up – and I wish I had.
These students are encouraged to pursue careers in the Valley, giving back to the very communities where they grew up. This is especially important in the Valley, where there is a need for physicians providing care in many of our rural communities.
Giving these opportunities to minority students is a step toward developing the next generation of diverse physicians who can provide culturally competent care to Valley residents.
Tina Lin, M.D., is a neurologist at Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center.