Purpose: To assess how U.S. academic health centers (AHCs) define the term underrepresented minority (URM) and apply it to their diversity programs, following the 2003 revision of the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC’s) definition of URM.
Method: In 2010, the authors developed and deployed a cross-sectional survey of diversity leaders at 106 AHCs. The survey included questions about the diversity leader and institution’s diversity program; institution’s URM definition; application of that definition; and the diversity leader’s perceptions of the representation and institutional contribution of various ethnic/racial groups. The authors used descriptive statistics to analyze the results.
Results: Of the 106 diversity leaders invited, 89 (84.0%) responded and 78 (73.6%) provided a working definition of URM. Most programs (40/78; 51%) used the 2003 AAMC definition of URM, which includes racial/ethnic groups that are underrepresented in medicine relative to local and national demographics. Only 14.1% (11/78) used the pre-2003 AAMC definition, which included only African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and mainland Puerto Ricans. Approximately one-third (23/78; 29.5%) also considered other diversity factors, such as socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and disability, in defining URM. Fifty-eight respondents (74.4%) confirmed that their diversity programs targeted specific groups.
Conclusions: The definition of URM used by diversity programs at U.S. AHCs varied widely. Although some classified URMs by racial/ethnic categories, the majority defined URM more broadly to encompass other demographic and personal characteristics. This shift should prepare academic medicine to eliminate health disparities and meet the health needs of an increasingly diverse population.