Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Asians in Medical Professions vs. the Executive Suite

While rennovating and expanding the IMDiversity Healthcare Industry Careers Channel, the editors stumbled across a few sobering stats about barriers to advancement for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in a field where, stereotypically, one might least expect it.

According to a 2003 aggregate report by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Asian Americans were in some sense "over-represented" in the healthcare field. Asian Americans constituted 5.2 percent of the total Healthcare and Social Assistance workforce, and 7.7 percent of "Professional" positions (including doctors, dentists, nurses, etc.), according to the report. At 4-point-something percent of the U.S. population in 2003, these figures are not too shabby, and seem to give evidence to the idea that we are "doing well," playing a leading role in this all-important, fastest-growing industry.

Chalk it up to what you will -- whether a high number of Indian, Chinese and Filipino doctors, nurses and researchers admitted to help ease the U.S. healthcare worker shortage on special visas, or simply intense parental pressure to be a doctors ... ;-)

However, a closer look at the next column shows that Asian Americans held only 3.0 percent of the "Officials & Managers" positions. Think, the hospital administrators and clinic managers, the behind the scenes and office positions, perhaps the heads of private labs ... or medical school research centers.

For all other minority groups, the percentages holding Professional positions and Official/Management positions were virtually identical.

This seems to make the healthcare profession consistent with other technical fields where a glass ceiling exists. Asians are presumed compentent and hard-working, skilled and highly educated, but perhaps not possessing the stuff of enjoying the fruits of their contributions in management at the top-levels.

One result is that many organizations, scholarships, and official initiatives established to create a measure of equity for minorities in the profession do not include Asians. We may in the aggregate excel at serving as doctors and nurses and technicians. Yet, as important and worthy as these occupations may be, additional research is needed. First, clear disparities in the quality of healthcare exist along ethnic lines, and this goes for Asian Americans as well. This seems counterintuitive; one would think with all those Asian doctors and nurses toiling away out there, Asian Americans would be receiving fantastic, culturally-targeted, in-language medical care more than most groups. But research into the dearth of Asian Americans who are decision-makers and purse-string holders in the management offices of the industry may point the way new kinds of access, research and attention to the benefit of Asian Americans' healthcare.

On a final note: The research into the representation of Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians in the industry is releatively new, and the subject for another day. However, already, it's clear that the disparities are even more pronounced in this group -- in terms of both access to the best healthcare and representation in the professions.