American Black women have a lower incidence rate of breast cancer compared with White women, but they are 40% more likely to die from it, reported the American Cancer Society (ACS) in 2022. This remains true across all breast cancer stages and subtypes.
Why the stark difference? The report’s authors cite the impacts of systemic racism on the social determinants of health, such as lack of access to health care.
“The differences in death rates are not explained by Black women having more aggressive cancers,” noted the co-author of the study, Rebecca Siegel, MPH, in an ACS news article about the study. “It is time for health systems to take a hard look at how they are caring differently for Black women.”
Yes, it is time to reevaluate how patients of all backgrounds are cared for. And it is also time for health care providers and leaders to more closely represent the populations they serve.
Since the fall of 2021, we and several other organizations have been working on a three-year grant project funded through the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The goal is to increase the number of practitioners and leaders in racial and ethnic minority groups working in health care professions and to improve health outcomes for racial and ethnic minority populations.
The health care workforce remains largely White, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association Network. Black, Hispanic, and Native American people are underrepresented across 10 health care professions, as well as in the educational pipeline for these professions.
As part of the grant project, we and other participants encourage all health care organizations and regulatory authorities to examine how their policies affect racial and ethnic minority populations and identify where improvements can be made. We and six other organizations outlined eight specific recommendations for doing so in a recent policy statement.
We are looking at our own membership as well. As part of the grant, we developed and distributed a survey for our member boards of pharmacy. It seeks to ascertain the extent to which the demographic makeup of the boards reflects that of the populations they serve. With the information gathered, we can assist policymakers in recognizing whether inequitable representation contributes to health disparities.
We also held a meeting with other pharmacy and health care organizations and hosted a workshop to explore issues surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). You can learn more about those activities in the February 2023 edition of Innovations.
As the HHS grant project continues, and even beyond it, we look forward to working even further with our member boards of pharmacy and other stakeholders in pharmacy and health care regulation to address this important issue.
*The development of this policy statement was supported by the Office of Minority Health (OMH) of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as part of a financial assistance award totaling $601,400 with 100% of the project funded by OMH/HHS. The contents are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by OMH/HHS or the US government.