The House Energy and Commerce Committee Democratic members partnered with the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus to host an April 29 forum, titled “Achieving Health Equity: The Path Forward,” that focused on efforts to increase diversity in the healthcare and research workforce and to reduce health disparities.
The forum consisted of three different panels. The first panel focused on health disparities when treating heart diseases while the second panel focused on the importance of a diverse research workforce and clinical trial cohort. AAMC Chief Diversity Officer Marc Nivet, Ph.D., participated on the third panel, which focused on ways to improve the diversity and cultural competency of the health care workforce.
The third panel was moderated by Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-Calif.), who has also worked to strengthen the health care workforce by introducing the Building a Heath Care Workforce for the Future Act [see Washington Highlights, Feb. 20, 2015]. Dr. Nivet started the discussion by discussing how students from underserved areas are more likely to return to serve in their rural or underserved community, which he then reinforced the importance of pipeline programs to help get those students on a pathway to a health professions career.
Dr. Nivet was joined on the panel by Tiffany Groover, M.D., who serves as the Medical Director at Chase Brexton Health Care and benefited from a pipeline program herself. Dr. Groover provided an overview of how she benefited from the Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP), which is a pipeline program that provides grants to improve the recruitment and enhance the academic preparation of students from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds into the health professions. While discussing the importance of increasing the diversity of the workforce, the panel noted it is crucial to increase the residency caps so that there are additional residency slots available for more students entering the workforce.
Dr. Nivet concluded the event by noting that “we have existing programs” that can improve diversity in the health care workforce, but he added, these programs are not appropriately funded. Specifically, Dr. Nivet referenced the significant funding cuts to the Title VII programs, such as HCOP and Centers of Excellence, whose funding has dropped from $35.6 million and $33 million respectively in fiscal year (FY) 2005, to $14.2 million and $21.7 million in FY 2016.
The research panel focused primarily on the roles of clinical researchers and emphasized the significant need to bring diverse representation into clinical trials. The panel highlighted the need to improve representation of diverse populations in clinical trials, not only, the panelists stressed, as a matter of social policy, but for improving the science underlying the trials. The panel agreed that a diverse workforce is more effective in communicating and encouraging the support of such trials. The panel included: Gary Bennett, Ph.D., Duke University School of Medicine; George Mensah, M.D., National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Gary Puckrein, Ph.D., National Minority Quality Forum; Abigail Echo-Hawk, Washington State University; Paul Underwood, M.D., Boston Scientific; and Martin Mendoza, Ph.D., Food and Drug Administration.
Several other members of Congress participated in the discussion throughout the forum, including Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), and Michelle Grisham (D-N.M.).