10/13/2014 04:09 pm ET Updated Dec 13, 2014

Increasing Diversity in the Medical Field

By Eva Gómez

It's no medical mystery; it's a fact: Patients who receive culturally-sensitive care from health care providers of the same background, are more satisfied with and engaged in their treatment.

Yet, while African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans comprise more than 26 percent of the U.S. population, they represent just 6 percent of practicing physicians, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Furthermore, of the 17,364 U.S. medical school graduates in 2011, 659 were Hispanic women (3.8 percent); 719 were black women (4.1 percent); and 1,918 were Asian women (11 percent).

To say the least, there's a major need for more minority women in various health care roles.

That's why the American Heart Association and Macy's have the Go Red™ Multicultural Scholarship Fund, which provides 16 $2,500 tuition-focused scholarships for women pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees in health care fields.

The deadline to apply for 2015 scholarships is Dec. 31, 2014. For more information about the scholarship and to complete an application, visit Go Red For Women's - Go Red Multicultural Scholarship Fund.

Here are some of the ways in which health care staff care for patients:

Who diagnoses and prescribes treatment for patients? Many people think only physicians diagnose and treat patients. But nurse practitioners and physician assistants diagnose and prescribe treatment for a wide variety of health conditions.

If patients have surgery, who puts them to sleep? Besides anesthesiologists, certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) also provide anesthesia for patients of all ages in many settings.

Once a diagnosis has been made, who delivers medications and care? Registered nurses (RNs) are licensed to provide medications and treatments prescribed to patients. In addition to RNs, licensed practical nurses can deliver patient care under the supervision of an RN. Nursing Assistants help both nurses get vital signs and care for patients.

What if patients need help with mobility or daily living activities? Physical therapists help patients recover their physical activity and strength after significant surgery or illness. For instance, they help patients get their muscle strength back after prolonged bed rest. Occupational therapists help stroke patients regain skills to do daily activities such as holding a spoon, brushing teeth or tying shoelaces.

What if patients lost the ability to eat or speak because of a stroke? Speech-Language pathologists help patients with improving their speech and swallowing disorders after a stroke.

What if patients need assistance during or after getting discharged from the hospital? Licensed social workers help patients find resources to get medications, transportation and personal care. They also connect patients with community programs that can make it easier to get care and services close to home. And they offer emotional support during difficult times.

These are only a few examples of how different professionals impact the health of patients every day. Which one sounds most like you? Are you an aspiring nurse? A physical therapist? A doctor? The possibilities are endless.

You can help eliminate health disparities and make a difference in your community, no matter which profession you choose. Our diverse communities desperately need health care professionals who can speak the same language and share the same cultural background as their patients.

Eva Gómez, MSN RN-BC CPN, is a heart disease survivor and volunteer for the American Heart Association.