Dr. Sims has eloquently identified the value of diversity not only in otolaryngology, but also its contribution to the strength of the U.S. as a nation. Drs. Kuppersmith and Thomas have responded to his editorial indicating steps that the AAO-HNS has taken and is currently taking to increase diversity.
Explore This IssueNovember 2010
First, I would like to point out that this is not just an Academy issue. Yes, the Academy is the largest membership organization in the specialty, and is representative of all otolaryngologists. That said, we cannot lay correction of diversity issues only at the feet of the Academy. Diversity is an issue that all of us as individuals, as physicians, as members of a variety of organizations, and as Americans should address at all levels.
To me, the solution to this issue is multi-phased and begins early in life with caring parents who provide a nurturing home with an emphasis on education and achievement. We need to improve our elementary and secondary education systems so that those individuals (regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin or whatever label we apply to each other) who want to pursue a career in health care have the background so crucial to success.
Based on my observations, our universities are not so much a stumbling block to a career in health care, but there is always room for improvement in this segment of the educational system. The application to medical schools is where the real winnowing process begins, and the odds of successfully matriculating and completing medical school in large measure depend on the student’s educational background and ability, as well as increasingly his or her ability to pay for the education. Graduating from medical school with debts exceeding $200,000 (not an uncommon occurrence) has to be stressful to students, which means the financial aspect of education has to be examined and addressed. These are broad societal issues that are beyond the field of otolaryngology, although each of us should work to resolve them.
And then we come to the otolaryngology specific issue: residency. For better or worse, it is a fact of life that obtaining a position in an otolaryngology training program is a very competitive process. Each program’s faculty, program director and chairman decide who will enter training.It is these individuals who can make and have made a difference in the question of diversity in our specialty. The Academy can convene a meeting and encourage activities, but it is the individuals at the program level that control the composition of the otolaryngology workforce.