Workforce studies have been highlighting more and more a decline in pediatric residents choosing some subspecialties over others or simply not specializing at all but moving into general practice. While we certainly need primary care pediatricians in our communities, there is also a need to make sure we have a sufficient number entering academic pediatrics as well. When it comes to underrepresented minorities (URM) going into academic pediatrics, the numbers are remarkably small. Why is that? To try to find out, Dixon et al. (10.1542/peds.2018-2759) brought together three focus groups made up of URM academic pediatric faculty from Howard University College of Medicine and the Children’s National Health System to find out why these URM faculty chose academic medicine. Some common themes emerge that are both positive forces (e.g. strong mentorship and family influences) for entering academic pediatrics and negative barriers as well (e.g. racism and gender bias) in the field of academic pediatrics making it tougher for URMs to want to pursue such careers).
So what can we do about overcoming these barriers? We asked Dr. Jean Raphael from Texas Children’s Hospital (10.1542/peds.2019-1532) to weigh in with an accompanying commentary. Dr. Raphael raises the added barrier of URM faculty having to pay the “minority tax” –i.e. the burden of extra responsibilities put upon minority faculty to achieve diversity in medical schools, and highlights what these responsibilities are (e.g. being asked to lead diversity initiatives at the expense of moving forward with one’s own academic work and scholarly productivity). He also notes that the fact that few individuals in any academic institution are URMs can be another deterrent for recruiting additional URMs. At the same time Dr. Raphael offers solutions in his commentary (e.g. structured mentoring and sponsorship programs) that if implemented by more of us in academic pediatric medicine would result in increases in URM pediatricians choosing to stay in the academic setting. If you don’t know the difference between a mentorship and sponsorship program, this commentary explains the differences and makes a case for the need for both. Check out both this study and commentary and then mentor your colleagues inside or outside of academic institutions to read it so as to better understand how mentoring and sponsorship can make a difference in furthering the careers of URM pediatricians, if not all pediatricians, who might be considering a career in academic pediatrics.