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Most Top U.S. Surgeons Are White and That's Not Changing

WEDNESDAY, May 5, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- White people continue to dominate top surgery positions at U.S. universities, while the number of Black and Hispanic surgeons remains flat, a new study finds.

"There are a lot of talented surgeons of different races, ethnicities and genders who do wonderful work and are being underrecognized or not recognized at all. And that's contributed to a lot of frustration," study co-author Dr. Jose Trevino said in a Virginia Commonwealth University news release. He's chair of surgical oncology and associate professor of surgery at the university's school of medicine.

For the study, researchers analyzed data on more than 15,000 faculty in surgery departments across the United States between 2013 and 2019. During that time, the share of surgery department chairs and full professorships held by white doctors fell by 4 to 5 percentage points, with a rise of 4 percentage points among Asian doctors.

There was a decline in male Black and Hispanic chairs, dropping 0.1 and 0.5 percentage points, respectively, during the study period.

Black and Hispanic women were even less likely to have leadership positions. During the study period, only one Black woman and one Hispanic woman were appointed department chairs, up from zero prior to 2015.

In 2019, white people accounted for three-quarters of chairs and full professorships, the findings showed. Black and Hispanic surgeons held about 3% to 5% of those positions — a small share considering the overall demographics of the United States.

Study co-author Dr. Andrea Riner, a surgical resident at the University of Florida College of Medicine, said, "I don't think it's a matter that they don't aspire to these positions. And I think many of them are truly qualified to lead."

One way to promote success for traditionally underrepresented groups is sponsorship, meaning a person in a position of power advocates for someone who doesn't have the same level of influence, the study authors said.

"Having that person speak up for you and say you are deserving of whatever position you'd like to hold is really powerful," Riner said. "As a profession, we need to be a little more cognizant or intentional about sponsoring diverse people within our departments."

The study was published online May 5 in JAMA Surgery.

More information

The RAND Corporation has more on diversity in U.S. health care.

SOURCE: Virginia Commonwealth University, news release, May 5, 2021

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