How Can Affirmative Action Help Healthcare?


Photo courtesy of (

Human Resources takes on a plethora of tasks within a healthcare system. Duties range from recruitment and retention to credentialing. Often, one overlooks the many employment laws that HR has to comprehend and abide by. Many of these employment laws include Consumer Credit Protection Act (Title III), Equal Pay Act of 1963, and Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, just to name a few. These laws have been passed over the years to ensure that employees have a level playing field when interacting with employers, but even with the passing of these laws, there are still some gray areas and misinterpretations.

Affirmative Action is an executive order that was passed that stated federal contractors are required to “take affirmative action to recruit and advance qualified minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and covered veterans” (Department of Labor, 2017). Healthcare systems must abide by the law and update their affirmative action strategy in order to continue to receive federal funding.

Affirmative action is often confused with meeting a quota in order to become a more diverse organization, but that is far from the truth. Although HR is often tasked with expanding diversity within a health system, quotas do not benefit the health system in the long run. HR’s main goal is to acquire the highest quality of talent which will increase profits and performance for the company overall. The goal of affirmative action is to give certain groups an equal opportunity for employment regardless of their race, creed, or sexuality.

The diversity within the health field has long shown to have effects on the population that health systems serve. Sassi, Carrier, and Weinberg (2014) state that a lack of diversity decreases the distribution of health care to ethnic minorities. It has been noted that people respond better to physicians that look like them, and the quality of care is often rated higher as well. Affirmative action was intended to help organizations reflect the diversity of the population, but according to Sassi, Carrier, and Weinberg (2014), that is not the case. Health disparities still vary between ethnicities, especially minorities.

Going forward, HR may seek to work closely with medical school recruitment teams in order to increase the diversity of new physicians coming into the job market. There are benefits to collaborating with other schools that develop other health professionals such as nurses, technicians, and assistants. Affirmative action must be present on all levels in the medical field to be effective. Cohen, Gabriel, and Terrell (2002) all agree that “interventions to improve diversity begins long before medical school.” Let’s use affirmative action to our advantage to benefit those that we serve, the patients.

Cohen JJ, Gabriel BA, Terrell C. The case for diversity in the healthcare workforce. Health Aff (Millwood). 2002;21(5):90-102

“Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).” N.p., 2017. Web. 29 Jan. 2017

Sassi, F., Carrier, J., & Weinberg, J. (2004). Affirmative action: the lessons for health care: Governments are becoming more assertive about reducing ethnic inequalities. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 328(7450), 1213–1214.