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Original Investigation
September 2016

Current and Future Status of Diversity in Ophthalmologist Workforce

Author Affiliations
  • 1Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, DC
  • 2Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan
JAMA Ophthalmol. 2016;134(9):1016-1023. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2016.2257

Importance  Increasing the level of diversity among ophthalmologists may help reduce disparities in eye care.

Objective  To assess the current and future status of diversity among ophthalmologists in the workforce by sex, race, and ethnicity in the context of the available number of medical students in the United States.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the American Medical Association, and US Census were used to evaluate the differences and trends in diversity among ophthalmologists, all full-time faculty except ophthalmology, ophthalmology faculty, ophthalmology residents, medical school students, and the US population between 2005 and 2015. For 2014, associations of sex, race, and ethnicity with physician practice locations were assessed.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Proportions of ophthalmologists stratified by sex, race, and ethnicity between 2005 and 2015.

Results  Women and minority groups traditionally underrepresented in medicine (URM)—black, Hispanic, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander—were underrepresented as practicing ophthalmologists (22.7% and 6%, respectively), ophthalmology faculty (35.1% and 5.7%, respectively), and ophthalmology residents (44.3% and 7.7%, respectively), compared with the US population (50.8% and 30.7%, respectively). During the past decade, there had been a modest increase in the proportion of female practicing ophthalmologists who graduated from US medical schools in 1980 or later (from 23.8% to 27.1%; P < .001); however, no increase in URM ophthalmologists was identified (from 7.2% to 7.2%; P = .90). Residents showed a similar pattern, with an increase in the proportion of female residents (from 35.6% to 44.3%; P = .001) and a slight decrease in the proportion of URM residents (from 8.7% to 7.7%; P = .04). The proportion of URM groups among ophthalmology faculty also slightly decreased during the study period (from 6.2% to 5.7%; P = .01). However, a higher proportion of URM ophthalmologists practiced in medically underserved areas (P < .001).

Conclusions and Relevance  Women and URM groups remain underrepresented in the ophthalmologist workforce despite an available pool of medical students. Given the prevalent racial and ethnic disparities in eye care and an increasingly diverse society, future research and training efforts that increase the level of diversity among medical students and residents seems warranted.