National Institute on Aging

The Percentage of All Doctors Who Are Black Men Has Made No Progress in 80 Years

A new study by Daniel P. Ly, an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, presents some startling statistics: The proportion of physicians who are Black in the United States has increased by only 4 percentage points over the past 120 years, and the share of doctors who are Black men remains unchanged since 1940.

Dr. Ly analyzed data from surveys administered by the U.S. Census Bureau from 1900 to 2018. He found that in 1900, when 11.6 percent of the nation’s population was Black, 1.3 percent of physicians were Black. In 1940, when 9.7 percent of the total population was Black, 2.8 percent of physicians were Black. Almost all were men. By 2018, when 12.8 percent of the total population was Black, 5.4 percent of U.S. physicians were Black — 2.6 percent were Black men and 2.8 percent were Black women.

“These findings demonstrate how slow progress has been, and how far and fast we have to go if we care about the diversity of the physician workforce and the health benefits such diversity brings to patients, particularly minority patients,” said Dr. Ly.

Dr. Ly also found that, adjusted for inflation, the difference in median income between Black and White male physicians was about $68,000 in 1960. Although that gap narrowed a bit by 2018, to $50,000, the discrepancy was still wide. “If this represents unequal access to specialties, sustained efforts need to be made in order to diversify specialties in medicine,” Dr. Ly said.

The full study, “Historical Trends in the Representativeness and Incomes of Black Physicians, 1900–2018,” was published on the website of the Journal of General Internal Medicine. It may be accessed here.


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