Not long ago, I visited an elderly friend who had been hospitalized following a stroke. I watched his medical team come and go. There were a large number of them, starting with his doctors and nurses. But also there were a laboratory technician, a respiratory therapist, a dietician, a physical therapist and finally a speech therapist. While the caregivers were kind and efficient, not one of them looked like him or me and none were able to put him at ease.
I was more than a little irritated that none of the people caring for him were African American. Why, I wondered, were there no African Americans in vital jobs that are critical to our community’s health and, moreover, provided good salaries and incredible self-fulfillment? I looked for an answer.
Here’s what I learned: California is facing a serious and dangerous shortage of personnel in every health care field. In fact, from 2000 to 2010, more than half of the 30 fastest growing jobs in the U.S. are expected to be in allied health. One reason is that health care workers, like the rest of us, are aging and many are retiring. Few people, it seems, are taking their place.
This creates a tremendous opportunity for people of color to enter a profession that promises a myriad of opportunities to find work in a well-paying field that also provides great self-esteem. So why are so few African Americans entering these jobs? Particularly when there are so many African Americans who need good jobs. Perhaps we don’t know there is an urgent need for health care personnel. Or perhaps we assume that these jobs require years of expensive education to achieve. Yet some 200 allied health care professions require only a two-year degree or a vocational certificate of training.
We need to fill health care positions now. Not simply because we need jobs. But we also need to be there for patients like my elderly friend who would feel much better if someone on his health care team looked like him. Also, studies indicate that health care providers of color frequently practice in their own communities, thus increasing access and quality of care in those communities.
When the “Make It In Scrubs” campaign asked me if the West Coast Black Publishers Association (WCBPA) would partner with the campaign, I immediately said yes. As WCBPA president, I know it is critical that we tell our readers about the shortage of health care workers to care for us and our aging parents. Equally important, we need to encourage African Americans to investigate the health care field and its many opportunities for employment.
The “Make It In Scrubs” campaign is part of Diversity in Health Professions Public Education Campaign. The campaign is funded by a grant from The California Wellness Foundation. To access a one-stop resource on careers in the health care field, financial aid information and profiles on people who are in the field, visit www.MakeItInScrubs.com.