Diversity Efforts Faltering in Therapy Occupations

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A study published in the the JAMA Network Open in 2021 demonstrated that diversity hiring efforts continue to fall short in many healthcare professions, including several therapy specialties.

The study looked at staffing levels for Hispanic, Black, and Native American individuals in 10 prominent healthcare professions including physicians, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists and respiratory therapists. 

The diversity index for the current health care workforce was below target for Hispanic health workers -- equal or above Hispanic representation in the working-age population -- in 9 of 10 professions. Only respiratory therapy jobs were adequately representative of Hispanics. For five occupations -- APRNs, dentists, pharmacists, OTs, and PTs -- Hispanic representation was lower than one-third of their numbers in the working-age population. For Black and Native American health workers, the diversity index for the current health care workforce was lower than 0.50 in 5 of 10 occupations: dentist, pharmacist, physician, OT, and PT.

While the study did not draw any conclusions about the cause for the disparity, among the possibilities listed was the cost barrier presented by the advanced degrees required for many of the studied professions. Respiratory therapy and initial nursing degrees require less education for entry level positions, and in some minority populations these professions do have a higher degree of representation. 

The study suggests that government policies are needed to encourage the education, support, and hiring of a health care workforce that is representative of the diversity of the current population. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted healthcare disparities for minority populations, making a representative workforce ever more critical.