Appalachian hopes to improve racial, ethnic diversity in health care field


The Appalachian Online

Tommy Culkin

Appalachian State University is working to improve diversity in the healthcare workforce after recently becoming an official member of the the North Carolina Alliance for Health Professions.

The organization, which is a coalition between universities, statewide organizations and state and local health agencies, works to improve the racial and ethnic diversity in the healthcare professions in North Carolina. By increasing diversity, the goal is that disparities in health status and health care will even out.

“People of color are disproportionately impacted by health disparities,” said Peggy Valentine, the dean of Health Sciences at Winston Salem State University and one of the founding members of the alliance. “As we prepare more people of color to become health professionals, they will be more likely to work in underserved communities where health disparities exist.”

The alliance has taken numerous steps to begin improving diversity in health professions, including creating a website that lists summer courses available to students interested in pursuing a career in health care, conducting joint-research projects and increased recruitment and mentoring of middle and high school students. The alliance meets monthly to come up with new strategies and plans.

Gary McCullough, the associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Health Sciences who serves as Appalachian’s representative on the alliance, believes the benefits of the alliance will be cyclical because an increased diversity will lead to even more diversity.

“When you draw people in from diverse backgrounds, they have a much better understanding of how to reach those other people of diverse backgrounds,” McCullough said. “It’s a domino effect. If there’s a first wave of a more diverse workforce, then those people have interactions in healthcare with other minorities, and those interactions will increase interest in [the profession] as well.”

McCullough believes Appalachian’s inclusion in the NC Alliance for Health Professions Diversity reflects highly on the culture of the university.

“It shows there’s an openness and a good perspective on life,” McCullough said. “These people are forward-thinking, looking to the future and how we can improve the planet.”

The program was founded by former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan. The alliance is a part of the larger Sullivan Alliance, created in 2005, which seeks to add more health professionals from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds. Alliances similar to North Carolina’s exist in states such as Nebraska, Virginia and Florida.

Ultimately, Valentine believes, the best way to give exceptional healthcare is to ensure there is a diverse healthcare workforce.

“As our nation becomes more ethnically diverse, we must ensure that quality healthcare is delivered in a culturally competent manner,” Valentine said. “A diverse health professions workforce will help to achieve that goal.”

Story: Thomas Culkin, News Reporter