African Americans Not Making Progress Into the Top Ranks of Academic Surgery Positions

A new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Florida finds that among the upper echelons of academic surgery, Black representation has remained flat over the past six years.

The study tracked trends across more than 15,000 faculty in surgery departments across the U.S. between 2013 and 2019. Although the data revealed modest diversity gains among early-career faculty during this period, especially for Black women, the percentage of full professors and department chairs identifying as Black continued to hover in the single digits.

Women from underrepresented groups were even more absent from leadership. During the study window, only one Black woman ascended to the role of department chair, up from zero prior to 2015, suggesting that the combination of gender with race or ethnicity deepened the disadvantages these surgeons faced when trying to rise through the ranks.

Over the six-year study period, the share of surgery department chairs and full professorships held by White doctors decreased by 4 to 5 percentage points, but it was Asian faculty who filled the void, rising by 4 percentage points over the same timeframe. Male Black chairs actually lost ground during the study period.

Senior author Jose Trevino, chair of surgical oncology and associate professor of surgery at the Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine, notes that “there are a lot of great leaders in surgery now — leaders who are very much willing to address these inequities, though their day-to-day activities don’t really allow for it. Every now and again we as a profession need to take a pause and remind the people who are at the top of these academic ladders that they can help someone up and push them forward.”

The full study, “Diversification of Academic Surgery, Its Leadership, and the Importance of Intersectionality,” was published on the website of JAMA Surgery. It may be accessed here.

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