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Canada needs to increase diversity of medical students

Canada needs to increase the diversity of physicians by removing barriers that prevent people of different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds from enrolling in , argues an editorial in ().

A diverse medical profession will benefit patients and the health care system as well as provide mentors of various backgrounds for .

“Training a diverse physician base enriches the health care system with a mix of individuals who may understand barriers to care more intimately and may be more likely to advocate effectively for their patients,” argues Dr. Moneeza Walji, editorial fellow, CMAJ.

To ensure diversity, we need information on the backgrounds of medical students. Whereas the United States records the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic background of medical school applicants and graduates, Canada has only recently been collecting this information through voluntary surveys. This needs to change if we are serious about increasing diversity among Canada’s physicians.

By 2031, it is estimated that 30% of Canadians will be non-white; this may reach 60% in such urban areas as Toronto and Vancouver.

People of South, Southeast and East Asian background are well-represented in Canada’s , and the percentage of self-identified Aboriginal students has increased from 1.6% in 2007 to 4.4% in 2012. However, people of Caribbean and African backgrounds are underrepresented as a proportion of the population. As well, less than a quarter (23%) of medical students come from families with incomes under $60 000, although 56% of families in Canada fall into this income bracket.

“Our unwillingness to talk about race, ethnicity and social “class” does not mean the system treats everyone equally,” writes Dr. Walji. “Racial, ethnic and socioeconomic factors do influence who is admitted to medical school. Meaningful increases in the diversity of our physician workforce require interventions that target and address each of these barriers to ensure we are not making medicine a profession that is attainable to only a select few.”


Diversity in medical education: data drought and socioeconomic barriers, Moneeza Walji MD MPH, CMAJ, DOI:10.1503/cmaj.141502, published 8 December 2014.