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A Penn Medicine researcher uses a pipette on Sept. 30, 2019. Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

A Penn Medicine study found that the amount of racial and ethnic diversity in surgical faculty strongly correlates to the amount of diversity in medical students.

This recent study in the journal JAMA Surgery by researchers at several institutions, including the Perelman School of Medicine, investigated how diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives have affected medical school admissions. Despite the presence of these initiatives, the study finds many racial and ethnic groups still remain underrepresented in surgical faculty, which correlates with similar underrepresentation among medical students.

Researchers assessed data from 140 programs across the United States to analyze patterns from 2011 to 2020 concerning representation in medicine. The study defined underrepresented groups as including people who are Black; people of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish descent; Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders; and Native American or Alaskan Native people.

Study data found that while the representation of women in medical school has increased to 48.1%, underrepresented groups each comprised less than 7% of medical students.

Researchers found a higher proportion of medical students who identified as women or part of underrepresented ethnicities as opposed to surgical faculty, Penn LDI reported. Patterns indicated that a larger presence of underrepresented surgical faculty was correlated to a larger presence of underrepresented groups and female medical students. However, the study found that a larger presence of female faculty does not correlate to a large presence of female medical students. 

The study has serious implications for the future of medicine, according to the study authors.

“Although limited in the ability to draw causative conclusions in this cohort study, our findings suggest that efforts to diversify faculties may improve representation among future generations of physicians,” the study read.