US allopathic medical schools have experienced improvements in racial and ethnic diversity among matriculants in the past decade. It is not clear, however, whether better representation of historically excluded racial and ethnic groups at medical school entry impacts subsequent stages of the medical training pipeline leading into a specific field. The aim of this study was to examine these trends as they relate to the neurosurgical medical education pipeline and consider the drivers that sustain barriers for underrepresented groups.
Race and ethnicity reports from the American Association of Medical Colleges were obtained on allopathic medical school applicants, acceptees, and graduates and applicants to US neurosurgical residency programs from 2012 to 2020. The representation of groups categorized by self-reported race and ethnicity was compared with their US population counterparts to determine the representation quotient (RQ) for each group. Annual racial composition differences and changes in representation over time at each stage of medical training were evaluated by estimating incidence rate ratios (IRRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) using non-Hispanic Whites as the reference group.
On average, Asian and White individuals most frequently applied and were accepted to medical school, had the highest graduation rates, and applied to neurosurgery residency programs more often than other racial groups. The medical school application and acceptance rates for Black individuals increased from 2012 to 2020 relative to Whites by 30% (95% CI 1.23–1.36) and 42% (95% CI 1.31–1.53), respectively. During this same period, however, inequities in neurosurgical residency applications grew across all non-Asian racialized groups relative to Whites. While the incidence of active Black neurosurgery residents increased from 2012 to 2020 (0.6 to 0.7/100,000 Black US inhabitants), the prevalence of White neurosurgery residents grew in the active neurosurgery resident population by 16% more.
The increased racial diversity of medical school students in recent years is not yet reflected in racial representation among neurosurgery applicants. Disproportionately fewer Black relative to White US medical students apply to neurosurgery residency, which contributes to declining racial representation among all active neurosurgery resident physicians. Hispanic individuals are becoming increasingly represented in neurosurgery residency but continue to remain underrepresented relative to the US population. Ongoing efforts to recruit medical students into neurosurgery who more accurately reflect the diversity of the general US population are necessary to ensure equitable patient care.