Background: Racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the health professions. Affirmative action and educational pipeline programs play a vital role in increasing the diversity of health professions, addressing educational opportunity gaps, and reducing health disparities. Part 1 of this 2-part series discusses the need for educational pipeline programs to assist underrepresented minorities (URMs) in entering the health professions and the importance of these programs in developing a cadre of diverse providers to reduce health care inequality.
Methods: Part 1 presents an overview of diversity in the medical and health care workforce, educational enrichment programs, key components of successful pipeline programs, and notable pipeline examples for underrepresented students at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Recommendations for improving and developing pipeline programs are also included. Part 2 reviews affirmative action case law and legislation along with recommendations for maintaining and reviewing diversity pipeline programs in light of recent anti-affirmative action challenges.
Conclusion: Pipeline programs are an important strategy for addressing the shortage of URMs in the health professions. Anti-affirmative action initiatives threaten the existence of these student preparation programs and the ability of our nation to produce physicians of color and other health care providers who are more likely to serve in underrepresented communities and work to reduce related health disparities. Programs at universities and academic medical centers must develop innovative partnerships with underserved communities, adopt strategies that demonstrate a strong commitment to increasing racial and ethnic minorities in the health professions, and develop viable funding mechanisms to support diversity enrichment programs.