Background: Despite compelling reasons to draw on the contributions of under-represented minority (URM) faculty members, US medical schools lack these faculty, particularly in leadership and senior roles.
Objective: The study's purpose was to document URM faculty perceptions and experience of the culture of academic medicine in the US and to raise awareness of obstacles to achieving the goal of having people of color in positions of leadership in academic medicine.
Design: The authors conducted a qualitative interview study in 2006-2007 of faculty in five US medical schools chosen for their diverse regional and organizational attributes.
Participants: Using purposeful sampling of medical faculty, 96 faculty were interviewed from four different career stages (early, plateaued, leaders and left academic medicine) and diverse specialties with an oversampling of URM faculty.
Approach: We identified patterns and themes emergent in the coded data. Analysis was inductive and data driven.
Results: Predominant themes underscored during analyses regarding the experience of URM faculty were: difficulty of cross-cultural relationships; isolation and feeling invisible; lack of mentoring, role models and social capital; disrespect, overt and covert bias/discrimination; different performance expectations related to race/ethnicity; devaluing of research on community health care and health disparities; the unfair burden of being identified with affirmative action and responsibility for diversity efforts; leadership's role in diversity goals; and financial hardship.
Conclusions: Achieving an inclusive culture for diverse medical school faculty would help meet the mission of academic medicine to train a physician and research workforce that meets the disparate needs of our multicultural society. Medical school leaders need to value the inclusion of URM faculty. Failure to fully engage the skills and insights of URM faculty impairs our ability to provide the best science, education or medical care.