Study: Ophthalmology residency programs in the United States rank last for diversity

Study: Ophthalmology residency programs in the United States rank last for diversity

A UC Davis Health study1 On the racial and ethnic makeup of residency programs in the United States, ophthalmology programs rank last in recruiting underrepresented minority groups compared to other specialties.

“We know from previous research that a diverse physician workforce that reflects our patient population can lead to reduced health care disparities, better access to care, and improved patient outcomes and satisfaction. said Parisa Emami-Naeini, MD, MPH, senior study author. Emami-Naeini is an assistant professor at UC Davis Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences.

“Our study shows that the field of ophthalmology does not reflect the diversity of our country,” Emami-Naeini said in the statement.

Underrepresented minority groups are defined as racial and ethnic populations in the medical field that are underrepresented relative to their numbers in the general population.

According to the study, underrepresented minorities made up about 19% of medical students, but only 6.3% of ophthalmology residency programs. Nationally underrepresented minority groups make up only 7.2% of practicing ophthalmologists in the United States.


According to the university, the researchers used the Data Resource Book published by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. They obtained demographic data on residents in training in 18 different specialties in accredited US residency programs between 2011-2012 and 2019-2020.

The team compared underrepresented minority groups in ophthalmology with those in other specialties and estimated changes in the proportion of underrepresented minority groups over time.

Ophthalmology ranked last for minority residents. Public health and preventive medicine and obstetrics and gynecology had the highest percentage of underrepresented minority groups.

The researchers note that complex factors contribute to disparities among ophthalmology residents. Previous research has shown that interest in ophthalmology was low among all medical students and even lower among students from underrepresented minorities.

Emami-Naeini notes that most medical students aren’t introduced to ophthalmology until their third or fourth year of study, when they may have already made up their minds about another specialty. Other factors that may be at play include individual experience, implicit biases among decision-makers in the field, and the lack of racially diverse role models.

Abhijith Atkuru, a third-year medical student at Eastern Virginia Medical School, is the study’s first author. He worked with Emami-Naeini as a recipient of the J. William Kohl, MD Medical Student Scholarship, which provides an award for medical students to study with ophthalmologists at UC Davis School of Medicine.

“By researching this project, I was able to learn and recognize the disparities in the field of ophthalmology and the urgent need for action to address them,” Atkuru said in the press release. “I am interested in ophthalmology. Participating in the Kohl summer program and working on various projects has reinforced my interest in the field. »

Small but steady increase in diversity

Data from the study shows a very small but consistent annual increase of 0.24% in the recruitment of minority ophthalmology residents between 2011 to 2012 and 2019 to 2020. The researchers note that since racial and ethnic disparities in ophthalmology and medicine are due to many factors, an equally multifaceted grassroots approach will be needed to address these issues.

They recommend concerted efforts and collaboration between medical schools and large decision-making bodies and subspecialty societies to recruit more diverse trainees.

Emami-Naeini participates in the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Minority Ophthalmology Mentorship Pipeline Program, which helps medical students from underrepresented minority groups become competitive candidates for ophthalmology residency.

“We know that representation is important. Seeing a doctor who looks like you or speaks your language can improve health outcomes and ease patient burden. We hope to attract more diverse students in the field of ophthalmology,” said Emami-Naeini.


1. Abhijith Atkuru, MS; Monica K. Lieng, PhD; Parisa Emami-Naeini, MD, MPH; Patterns of racial diversity among United States ophthalmology residents. Ophthalmology. Published in August. 957-959. DOI: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2022.03.020

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