Meeting the Needs of Regional Minority Groups: The University of Washington’s Programs to Increase the American Indian and Alaskan Native Physician Workforce

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Minority populations in the United States are growing rapidly, but physician workforce diversity has not kept pace with the needs of underserved communities. Minorities comprised 26.4% of the population in 1995; by 2050, these groups will comprise nearly half. Medical schools must enlist greater numbers of minority physicians and train all physicians to provide culturally responsive care.The University of Washington School of Medicine (UWSOM) is the nation’s only medical school that serves a five-state region (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho). Its mission addresses the need to serve the region, rectify primary care shortages, and meet increasing regional demands for underserved populations. The UWSOM Native American Center of Excellence (NACOE) was established as one important way to respond to this charge.The authors describe pipeline and minority recruitment programs at UWSOM, focusing on the NACOE and other activities to recruit American Indian/Alaskan Native (AI/AN) applicants to medical schools. These programs have increased the numbers of AI/AN medical students; developed the Indian Health Pathway; worked to prepare students to provide culturally responsive care for AI/AN communities; researched health disparities specific to AI/AN populations; provided retention programs and services to ensure successful completion of medical training; developed mentorship networks; and provided faculty-development programs to increase entry of AI/AN physicians into academia.Challenges lie ahead. Barriers to the pipeline will continue to plague students, and inadequate federal funding will have a significant and negative impact on achieving needed physician-workforce diversity. Medical schools must play a larger role in resolving these, and continue to provide pipeline programs, retention programs, and minority faculty development that can make a difference.

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