From the desk of the EMD: Diversity in allergy

September 3, 2019

One of the buzzwords in medicine today is diversity. I really like the definition of diversity on the Queensborough Community College site. Diversity means understanding that each individual is unique and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. Medicine is going through changes with a major emphasis on diversity, and with that, so is allergy. Gone are the days when medicine was thought of as a profession of white males, with nurses being all female. In 2018, for the first time, more than half of the applicants and enrollees in U.S. medical schools were women, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The number of medical students who identified as African American grew from 3,722 in 1980 to 6,758 in 2016. Nevertheless, the percentage of African Americans in medical school is still short of the 13.2% that make up the US population, but it is moving in the right direction. The AAMC race data from 2018 showed 56% were white, 6% black, 21% Asian, 5% Hispanic and less than 1% Native American/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

What about diversity in allergy? At the present time approximately 34% of College members are female. What we are seeing is that allergy is changing and will become a predominately female specialty. In 2015, over 70% of U.S. allergy fellows were women. Only pediatrics and obstetrics-gynecology had higher percentages of females. Male-dominated specialties were led by orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, thoracic surgery and radiology. When we look at the College’s demographics, women make up a majority of members joining committees since the launch of Vision 2020. At our latest Young Leadership Summit earlier this year, women made up a majority of attendees. So far, only three women have been president of the College since our founding over 75 years ago. No doubt this will change. Presently our vice president and treasurer are female and will likely move up the ladder, which is great for our professional organization.

Recently, Medscape released its Female Physician Compensation Report for 2019. When looking at pay differences between female and male specialists, it was found that male specialists earn 33% more than women. You may think that this is due to women seeing patients less hours per week, yet there was only a 4-hour difference a week between the two sexes. In the Medscape 2018 Allergist Compensation data, there was a $170,000 difference in pay between male and female allergists in favor of males. In part this may be due to 30% of female allergists working part time and only 15% of male allergists working part  time. However, this still seems like too big a gap, and we will hopefully see it closing over the next several years. We must strive for gender equity in pay and promotion in allergy.

What is the College doing to increase diversity? At our last Board of Regents meeting, we took steps to continue and strengthen the Women in Allergy committee. Of course, we must not just lead in diversity with female allergists, but for diversity and inclusion of all ethnicities and races. We are now forming a Diversity Task Force to make diversity a priority in the College. We must strengthen and support more inclusion in all elements of the College, from committees to leadership. We must represent all community allergists as we strive to provide the best possible care for all patients.

Michael Blaiss, MD, FACAAI, Executive Medical Director