A new online tool developed by George Washington University’s Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity (GWMI) may revolutionize the way that diversity is assessed in health care education and professions.
Launched in November, the Health Workforce Diversity Tracker functions as an interactive map that allows users to access demographic data on recent graduates from nearly 3,900 health care programs. It also provides demographic data on 10 specific professions, including: advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), dentists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, physical therapists, physicians, physician assistants, respiratory therapists, registered nurses, and speech pathologists.
The tool currently tracks the representation of Black, Latinx, and White Americans — the nation’s three largest ethnic and racial groups. Researchers will regularly update the online map and eventually include data on Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans, according to Edward Salsberg, lead research scientist and co-director of the GWMI’s Health Workforce Diversity Initiative.
“We’re hoping that this data will motivate schools to take action,” he says.
To navigate the tool, users can choose whether they want to see information on new graduates or the current workforce, then select a profession, race, and region or state. The tracker also provides a diversity index scale to help users better understand the significance of the data. The index “allows for comparison of performance across diverse states and professions as well as over time,” the institute’s website states.
“This data will give decision makers a [comprehensive] picture of the widespread lack of diversity in many health professions and inspire a sense of urgency and targeted efforts to improve diversity within health care pipelines and workforce.”
For example, only 9 percent of recent APRN graduates nationwide are Hispanic or Latinx, earning the U.S. a low diversity index score of 0.44 for that demographic. Florida, on the other hand, has a high index score of 1.44 for this demographic, as 32.5 of its recent APRN graduates are Hispanic or Latinx.
Of the 3,900 health care education programs tracked by the online tool, approximately 12 percent were found to have no Black graduates and 9 percent had zero Hispanic/Latinx graduates between 2017 and 2019. The tracker also found that Black employees are underrepresented by an average of 46 percent across 10 health care professions.
“This data will give decision makers a [comprehensive] picture of the widespread lack of diversity in many health professions and inspire a sense of urgency and targeted efforts to improve diversity within health care pipelines and workforce,” says Maria Portela, MD, a co-director of the GW Diversity Initiative and an assistant professor at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said in a press release.
Salsberg and his team are also working with the Beyond Flexner Alliance (BFA), a national network of colleges and organizations “focused on health equity and training health professionals as agents of more equitable health care,” according to its website. This connection makes it possible for the Health Workforce Diversity Initiative to work more closely with schools to address disparity issues, according to Salsberg.
After identifying which schools were successful at graduating underrepresented students, officials from BFA and the initiative worked together in researching each institution’s recruitment and retention strategies. Salsberg says a future goal is to receive additional funding to establish collaborative education programs for institutions that want to be more successful in this area.
The California Endowment, a health care equality foundation, and the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving health professions education, originally provided funding for the tracker’s development in summer 2020.
Over the next several months, the tool will expand to include nearly 25 specific health care professions, according to Salsberg. It could serve as a model for other disciplines as well. “Although we’ve created this tool for health care occupations, there’s no reason why this couldn’t be done for law or engineering or any other higher education [discipline]. The data is available,” says Salsberg. “In fact, I would love to work with people in other professions that want to do the same thing for their professions.”
To learn more about the Health Workforce Diversity Tracker, visit gwhwi.org/diversitytracker.html.●
Mariah Stewart is a senior writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.
This article was published in our January/February 2022 issue.