The Potentiality of Increasing Diversity in the Health Professions from the Front Lines: Community Colleges

May 29, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by Ebbin Dotson

Defining potentiality in my line of work is an opportunity for me to influence and encourage the diversification of the health care workforce. Here at the community college where I work, we serve 120,000 students across seven campuses and seven satellite sites on a daily basis (1). More than 70 percent of these students categorize themselves as being Black and/or Hispanic (2). In addition, we have developed partnerships with more than 100 industries, four-year colleges and universities, and community‐based organizations to help connect our students to real-world educational and work opportunities (3). On this national platform discussing diversity, we have an opportunity to change the future course of health care through our investments in health science education and training at community colleges.

As a health professions pathways researcher, it is my desire to increase the diversity of the health care workforce as a solution toward reducing health disparities. In my opinion, more minorities in the health care workforce will have a positive impact on the care provided to minority consumers of health care. Furthermore, as an RWJF New Connections grantee, it is my role to find ways to recruit and retain health professions students using pipeline programs. So what are the effective strategies that result in a diversified health care workforce?

I have written elsewhere that a business imperative is the key strategy to diversifying the health care workforce (4). The necessary components that support this strategy include diversity and performance, financial outcomes and culturally competent care, and leadership and organizational performance. In the community college arena, imbedding potentiality into every student who has an interest in a health science career program advances this imperative. Our community college system strategy includes organizational innovation of performance, industry support, and research implementation. Together these components provide a way for a large institution of higher learning to drive efforts to increase diversity with institutional commitment of resources, an openly collaborative set of industry partners, and a national consortium of other community colleges with a shared goal and several nationally‐recognized best practice models.

Detailing the interconnectedness of the strategy highlights the opportunity that practice-based innovation and research bring to educational institutions. The college leadership strategy is driven by a Reinvention initiative that aims to drive greater degree attainment, job placement, and career advancement (5) using key performance indicators and action-oriented metrics. Industry support is guided by our College to Careers initiative that provides students access to real-world experience via teacher-practitioners, internships and top-notch facilities, and gives graduates a first pass at job opportunities (6). Research efforts are incorporated into an implementation grant funded by the Department of Labor called the Health Professions Pathways, in which nine community college systems share in the task to expand entry pathways into health care by delivering robust curriculum, stackable credentials, workforce readiness determined by local industry, multiple entry and exit points, and online learning opportunities (7).

In the first two years of strategy implementation, our community college system has already experienced record growth and student completion. In the fall, research efforts will add several new health care pathways to an already robust academic catalog. Like other strategies around the nation, success will require continued financial and human capital resource investments; however, the business imperative has served as ‘call to action’ against failure, significant enough to will change, realistic enough to drive positive momentum.

Increasing diversity in health care is an ongoing challenge. Health professions pipeline strategies are risky, but have great potentiality to change the face of our health care workforce. In my experience, and hopefully future research will support this argument, investments in community colleges with significant minority populations are right at the top of best returns on investment. Imagine the type of diverse health care workforce that reaches even 10 percent of our student population.

I use every opportunity to tell our students that pursuing careers in the health professions is a great investment in their future. At the end of the day, it is our job as policy-makers, academic leaders, and industry partners to make sure that there is an overabundance of opportunities for students to exercise their potentiality.


Learn more about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Connections program here and here.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.