Diversity in the Health Professions


In an ideal world the demographics of the health care work force would mirror the demographics of the country as a whole. Professional societies, educational institutions, and the U. S. government recognize that medicine as a profession and patients in particular will benefit from the education of a diverse student body.

Medical schools are interested in a diverse class, and this diversity can take many shapes.  There are a number of racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the health professions relative to their numbers in the general population. Historically the term “underrepresented in medicine” referred to four historically underrepresented groups - Blacks, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans and mainland Puerto Ricans.  This term has been expanded to include a broader range of ethnicities and consideration of socioeconomic disadvantage.  Students who are first-generation college students,who grew up in challenging financial or social situations, in medically underserved areas, or who throughout their life lacked positive mentors, are all interesting candidates for medical school. In addition, there is a greater focus on regional and local demographics so as to improve the cultural competencies of graduating physicians and improve access to care for underserved populations.

Schools of dentistry and veterinary medicine have also responded to the need to increase diversity within their professions. Below you will find information and links to programs to recruit and support students from underrepresented groups and financially disadvantaged backgrounds.


The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) definition of underrepresented in medicine is:
"Underrepresented in medicine means those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population."
(From the AAMC web page Underrepresented in Medicine Definition)

If you are from a group that is underrepresented in medicine as defined by the AAMC or from a financially disadvantaged background, please be aware that there are opportunities available to you, including:

  • Summer academic programs
  • Summer research programs
  • Postbaccalaureate programs designed to prepare students for the MCAT and to provide opportunities to demonstrate ability in the sciences

See the Health Professions Resources page for links to databases of summer programs and postbac programs with a specific focus on providing opportunities for minority and disadvantaged students.

AspiringDocs.Org is an initiative by the AAMC to increase diversity in the medical profession. Their web site provides comprehensive information and advice for students from the high school level through medical school.

Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP)

SMDEP is a free six-week summer medical and dental school preparatory program for first and second year college students. Originally developed for students from historically underrepresented minority groups or from economically or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds, the program includes students from a wide variety of backgrounds who demonstrate commitment to service, issues affecting underserved populations, and careers in health care.  Bryn Mawr students have been accepted to SMDEP sites throughout the country. Each fall the prehealth advisor holds an SMDEP information session at which Bryn Mawr students discuss their SMDEP experiences.


According to information from the American Dental Association (ADA), there is critical need to increase the representation of minority dentists.

 "There is a critical need in many underserved communities where minority and disadvantaged people are not getting the care they need. Only 12 percent of students entering dental school are minorities, while minorities make up 25 percent of the general population. Recent data shows that minority dentists treat a very high number of minority patients." (Source:  Be A Dentist from the ADA Current and Future Dental Students web site.)

The ADEA is also a partner with the AAMC to sponsor the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP).

Veterinary Medicine

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges’ DiVersity Matters initiative describes the AAVMC's programs to foster diversity within the veterinary profession.