Developing Workforce Diversity in the Health Professions: A Social Justice Perspective

Kirsten Wilbur, Cyndy Snyder, Alison C. Essary, Swapna Reddy, Kristen K. Will, Saxon Mary Saxon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Purpose: People of color often face challenges in accessing equitable healthcare. Disparities in healthcare pose very real moral and ethical social justice dilemmas for society, and prevent efforts to improve the nation's health and manage escalating healthcare costs. A diverse healthcare workforce is necessary as a means to help care for an increasingly diverse patient population. Method: This paper focuses on programmatic and research information that is a collaborative effort between a number of researchers and educators in schools of medicine and allied healthcare. The paper looks at the current state of racial and ethnic diversity in the health professions and describes the social justice implications of a representative healthcare workforce. Using a “pipeline to practice” model, the authors will present information spanning the pipeline from encouraging high school students of color to enter the allied healthcare professions to introducing undergraduate and graduate students in health professions program to responsive policy making and cross-cultural communication. The authors reviewed the research literature across multiple institutions and professional health programs, and include illustrative case studies. Results: The authors found that overall, the healthcare workforce is becoming more diverse however, with the majority of people of color in healthcare jobs remaining in entry-level and often lower paying jobs. The need to increase the diversity of the healthcare workforce in all fields of allied health is a continuing need. The most promising practices tended to be comprehensive programs that include a combination of social support, academic support, and financial support. Discussion: This information has great significance for health professions education programs as they strive to diversify their student populations, retain students of color, and provide culturally responsive education and training. This interdisciplinary collaborative perspective illustrates what can be learned from varied health professional programs as well as making new connections across often disconnected practice settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)222-229
Number of pages8
JournalHealth Professions Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Disparities
  • Healthcare
  • Social justice
  • Workforce

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Nursing


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