There are not enough health workers in California to meet the needs of the state’s increasingly diverse, growing, and aging population, and the situation is getting worse. In 2019, 39 percent of Californians identified as Latinx, but only 14 percent of medical school students and 6 percent of active patient care physicians in California were Latinx.
Researchers from Mathematica, with support from the California Health Care Foundation, recently reviewed evidence from key health workforce policy interventions to determine their impact on access to health care, the diversity of the health workforce, and providers’ ability to deliver services in a language other than English (“language concordance”). The evidence review included academic literature and interviews of key experts in the field. It focused on health professions that require an advanced degree, because it has been particularly challenging to improve access, diversity, and language concordance through these jobs.
“There have been many public and private efforts in California to increase the number and diversity of health professionals, but they have not been sufficient to alleviate the crisis,” said Diane Rittenhouse, a senior fellow at Mathematica. “In a year with a state budget surplus, this report reviews evidence and presents options for public investment to improve health care access and health workforce diversity.”
Mathematica’s researchers concluded that a blended approach is necessary to achieve better health care access and improve the diversity of the health workforce. For example, loan repayment in exchange for a commitment to serve in a medically underserved area of California is a quick way to improve access to primary care, behavioral health, and dentistry in those areas. Improving the diversity of the workforce, however, requires support for a diverse array of college students to succeed in California’s health professional training programs. Ultimately, underserved rural and urban areas are more likely to retain health professionals who are from those areas, and interventions that seek to engage those professionals will likely have the greatest impact.