Importance: Surgical programs across the US continue to promote and invest in initiatives aimed at improving racial/ethnic diversity, but whether this translates to changes in the percentage of applicants or matriculants from racial/ethnic minority groups remains unclear.
Objective: To examine trends in the percentage of applicants and matriculants to US surgical specialties who identified as part of a racial/ethnic group underrepresented in medicine from the 2010-2011 to 2018-2019 academic years.
Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional study examined trends in self-reported racial/ethnic identity among applicants and matriculants to US residency programs to evaluate demographic changes among surgical programs from 2010 to 2018. Data were obtained from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Results: The study population consisted of a total of 737 034 applicants and 265 365 matriculants to US residency programs, including 134 158 applicants and 41 347 matriculants to surgical programs. A total of 21 369 applicants (15.9%) and 5704 matriculants (13.8%) to surgical specialties identified as underrepresented in medicine. There was no statistically significant difference in the percentage of applicants underrepresented in medicine based on race/ethnicity for all surgical specialties combined in 2010 vs 2018 (15.3% [95% CI, 14.7%-15.9%] vs 17.5% [95% CI, 16.9%-18.1%]; P = .63). Thoracic surgery was the only surgical specialty in which there was a statistically significant change in the percentage of applicants (8.1% [95% CI, 4.9%-13.2%] vs 14.6% [95% CI, 10.2%-20.4%]; P = .02) or matriculants (0% [95% CI, 0%-19.4%] vs 10.0% [95% CI, 4.0%-23.1%]; P = .01) underrepresented in medicine based on race/ethnicity. Obstetrics and gynecology had the highest mean percentage of applicants (20.2%; 95% CI, 19.4%-20.8%) and matriculants (19.0%; 95% CI, 18.2%-19.8%) underrepresented in medicine among surgical specialties. Thoracic surgery had the lowest mean percentage of applicants (12.5%; 95% CI, 9.46%-15.4%) and otolaryngology the lowest mean percentage of matriculants (8.5%; 95% CI, 7.2%-9.9%) underrepresented in medicine.
Conclusions and relevance: In this cross-sectional study, overall US surgical programs had no change in the percentage of applicants or matriculants who self-identified as underrepresented in medicine based on race/ethnicity, but the proportion remained higher than in nonsurgical specialties. Reevaluation of current strategies aimed at increasing racial/ethnic representation appear to be necessary to help close the existing gap in medicine and recruit a more racially/ethnically diverse surgical workforce.