Ophthalmology Departments Among Medical Schools’ Least Diverse

Confident African American female doctor points to a student taking a class at a medical school. An unrecognizable female student has her arm raised. The doctor is pointing to that person.
An investigation found these departments to be third-least diverse.

The faculty of ophthalmology departments at medical schools across the United States are among the least ethnically diverse in the nation, according to findings published in Ophthalmology.

Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine conducted a secondary analysis of demographic data from the 2019 American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) Faculty Roster to determine how much ethnic diversity was present among clinical faculty of ophthalmology in medical schools compared with faculty of other departments. The analysis calculated the proportion of under-represented minority (URM) faculty in a total of 18 clinical departments, as well as a calculation to determine how this ratio measures against graduating medical students.

The researchers compared the percentage of URM physicians among ophthalmology faculty with the proportion of URM persons among graduating medical students in the United States and in the US population using data from the Medical School Graduation Questionnaire and the US census.

The results of the analysis show that ophthalmology departments have the third-lowest proportion of URM faculty of all of the departments evaluated, as only radiology and orthopedic surgery had lower percentages. Also, ophthalmology faculty and department chairs are not ethnically representative of either graduating students in the field or the general US population, and as a result, the researchers conclude that more work should be done to recruit a more ethnically-diverse population of faculty.

The study defined URM as people who self-identified as Black, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. The study explains that only 12% of physicians in the United States identify as URM, and that because they are statistically more likely to work in medically-underserved areas, this low proportion also has implications for health disparities. The researchers say that a more diverse physician workforce would have several benefits, including improved cross-cultural communication and providing patients access to diverse physicians.

“Additionally, patients who see physicians of their own ethnicity rate their physicians as more likely to engage them in participatory decision-making about treatment choices,” the study explains.

The research says that the AAMC Faculty Roster, the source used in obtaining data for this analysis, contains records on approximately 176,000 active faculty and 300,000 inactive faculty in ophthalmology and other medical school departments around the country, and that participation in the database is voluntary. Of all 18 departments analyzed for this study, 9.8% of the total clinical faculty in 2019 were URM. 

Of the 3060 ophthalmology faculty from the 2019 database,  6.8% reported as URM. Specifically, only 2.3% of faculty were Black, compared with 6.7% of graduating medical students and 12.7% of the population; and, 2.3% were Hispanic/Latino, compared with 8.6% of graduating students and 18.3% of the population. Disparities also existed among faculty and students of Native American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander descent. 

The research cites some work being done toward progress in diversifying ophthalmology faculty, such as a 2016 initiative called the Minority Ophthalmology Mentoring program for URM medical students, whose ultimate goal is to help them to become competitive residency applicants.


Fairless EA, Nwanyanwu KH, Forster SH, Teng CC. Ophthalmology departments remain among the least diverse clinical departments at US medical schools., Ophthalmol. Published online January 10,2021. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2021.01.006.