People from minority backgrounds are often underrepresented in many healthcare occupations as well as in the upper ranks of healthcare organizations. "While ethnic minority groups continue to increase in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the general population (more than 25 percent), the number of professionally trained minority mental health providers and service researchers (currently around 8 percent) is not increasing in a similar manner," according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Combine this with the chronic shortage of healthcare workers in the US, and minority job seekers who tap the right resources will have many opportunities to advance in this field.
"I can see a huge need for people of color or people competent with certain populations," says Vicky Lomay, a doctoral student in counseling psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia who is doing an internship at a rehabilitation hospital in rural Missouri.
"I can provide culturally sensitive services and teach others how to do so," says Lomay, a Navajo who grew up on a reservation in Arizona. "A lot of times, people think of American Indians in stereotypical ways; they don't know what American Indians are like today."
Opportunities Begin Before College
When should young people from diverse backgrounds start to explore healthcare careers? For some, the process can begin even before college.
"We recruit Latino students age 17 and up in the public schools for our Discovering Healthcare Careers program," says Maria Rivera, human resources and workforce development consultant at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Participants in the six-week summer program hear presentations from healthcare professionals about their careers and also shadow healthcare workers.
"We felt the need to start this program to let students know that these careers exist," Rivera says. "Going to job fairs, I found that there weren't any Latinos."
Students interested in finding similar outreach programs in their areas should contact the human resources department or diversity office at local teaching hospitals.
Another way to learn about healthcare careers is through an occupation-specific professional association. For example aspiring nurses of diverse backgrounds can learn more about nursing careers by contacting the National Black Nurses Association, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, the Philippine Nurses Association of America or the Transcultural Nursing Society.
Groups representing diverse workers in other healthcare professions include the Association of Black Health-System Pharmacists, the National Association of Puerto Rican/Hispanic Social Workers and the American Association for Women Radiologists. A career counselor or librarian can help you locate additional resources.
Finding Financial Aid
When aspiring healthcare professionals begin to seriously consider getting the training to enter the field, financing their education is an immediate and long-term concern. Fortunately, financial aid is available through educational institutions and other sources.
The American Nurses Association, for example, offers the Minority Fellowship Program for students training for careers in mental health. The United Negro College Fund is a venerable source for thousands of scholarships and grants, though healthcare applicants must compete with students from all academic disciplines.
Young people of minority backgrounds and career changers can find hundreds of sources of private financial aid in these books:
Help with Moving Up
Some minority professionals with established healthcare careers seek ongoing help. Recognizing that these employees are often eager for guidance on how to move up through the organization, some employers have established mentoring programs.
"We do a lot of coaching and development, showing employees how to get exposure in areas where they don't have the experience to get to the next level," says Eugene Tucker, director of equal employment opportunity and diversity at Schering-Plough, a pharmaceutical maker in Kenilworth, New Jersey. "We introduce minority employees to senior managers and ask the manager to mentor."
For those interested in healthcare management and administration, the Institute for Diversity in Health Management in Chicago offers summer internships to college students in various cities. The Institute is an affiliate of the American Hospital Association.
With demand in many healthcare professions reaching record levels, career opportunities abound for people of all backgrounds. Those who know the best resources to tap along the way are apt to find the greatest success.
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