The “Invisible Minority” in Medicine
Writer by Jonathan Gao
Editor by Kelvin Wu
When looking at applications for institutional programs that are designed to bolster interest in attractive medical specialties, such as surgery or pediatrics, I often find myself in an awkward position when it comes to wanting to apply. Often catered to underrepresented minorities in the U.S, these programs are a tremendous asset for students that identify as Black, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, and mainland Puerto Rican (AAMC, 2003) who’ll often receive mentorship from leading physicians, develop routine skills, and become an integral part of the institution’s network – all of which will bolster their experiences as they work towards the pursuit of careers in medicine.
So where does that leave Asian-Americans, who seem to simultaneously be both overrepresented and underrepresented? Do Asians not need any more resources to become prospective medical professionals? Have Asians already oversaturated the healthcare field enough that simply no more are needed?
Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut answers to any of these questions.
For many, to practice medicine is a privilege that comes with years of strenuous studying and diligence. It would seem, at least at first, absurd to think that structural racism and discrimination exists in such an institution where an emphasis on modern thinking and education is omnipresent. Despite only representing 5% of the total U.S. population, Asian-Americans encompass nearly a fifth of active physicians in the country (Yu, 2020). Despite the high proportion of Asian-American physicians, their path to success is not the same as that of white doctors. To equate the success of the former with that of the latter disregards struggles uniquely faced by Asians, yet society’s tunnel vision only idealizes the end result: becoming esteemed physicians.
While diversity is rightfully needed in healthcare, it is unfortunate that Asian-Americans are commonly viewed as the “non-underrepresented minority” (Chen, 2021) and thus, are constantly excluded from efforts designed to bolster the number of physicians from minority backgrounds. For aspiring and future healthcare professionals of Asian descent, this only raises the wall that separates them from beneficial and stimulating opportunities.
The wide breadth of the Asian-American community is not one that can simply be overlooked. Nevertheless, reports, such as one made by the National Academy of Medicine in 2001, makes bold assumptions that Asians belong to a singular monolithic culture and that the number of Asian applicants to physician pipeline programs hinders the admission of other applicants of color.
It goes without saying that greater resources and equal opportunities in medical education and medicine-related careers need to be diverted towards minorities who are actively working to eventually become indispensable parts of healthcare. Anti-Asian racism has long existed, and it is no stranger to healthcare: from within the physical confines of the hospital to the intangible bounds of medical discrimination and biases. Electing to focus on helping some while neglecting to help others does us all a disservice. If we want to truly create a practice that benefits everyone, the upward movement towards becoming physicians needs to address the struggles of all.
Yu, Corinna J. “Asian Americans: The Overrepresented Minority?: Dispelling the ‘Model Minority’ Myth.” ASA Monitor, vol. 84, no. 7, July 2020, pp. 32–33. Silverchair, https://doi.org/10.1097/01.M99.0000688732.01865.74
“Increasing Asian Inclusion in Academic Medicine and Leadership.” AAMC, https://www.aamc.org/what-we-do/equity-diversity-inclusion/learning/webinar-asian-inclusion. Accessed 1 Dec. 2021.
“More Asian American Representation Needed in Leadership and Diversity Efforts in Academic Medicine.” Columbia University Irving Medical Center, 16 Aug. 2021, https://www.cuimc.columbia.edu/news/more-asian-americans-needed-leadership-and-diversity-efforts-academic-medicine.
Chen, Pauline W. “Op-Ed: Even as More Asian Americans Become Doctors, Workplace Bias Flourishes.” Los Angeles Times, 12 Apr. 2021, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-04-12/asian-discrimination-racism-medical-profession.
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