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About Lashanda Skerritt

Lashanda Skerritt is a fourth-year MD-PhD Candidate at McGill University. She is pursuing her PhD in family medicine and primary care. Her dissertation focuses on reproductive health care for women living with HIV. In 2016, she founded a mentorship program aimed at supporting high school students from underrepresented groups in medicine to explore careers in health care.


Increasing diversity in academic medicine has been a priority for many years. Despite marginal improvements, programs are still struggling with it. This chapter explains the under-discussed issue of diversity within the physician-scientist workforce, recognizing the feelings of marginalization that students from underrepresented groups may experience. The chapter aims to provide concrete advice for success as an MD-PhD student and an underrepresented minority.

The physician-scientist workforce has historically been a place of underrepresentation for groups who identify as women, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour LGBTQ+, and from low socioeconomic status. Some strides have been made. For instance, a generation ago, women made up a small proportion of MD and MD-PhD programs. Now, women are equally represented or account for more than half of MD-only and MD-PhD training programs in the United States and Canada. However, women are underrepresented among MD-PhD grant holders and in senior academic positions. Compared to men, women MD-PhDs are less likely to pursue and advance in careers in academic medicine after completing their training. The disparity is even greater in leadership positions. In essence, gender discrepancy in the physician-scientist workforce is not an issue of recruitment but rather of retention.


  • Some MD-PhD programs have a diversity issue that combines many of the factors that contribute to underrepresentation in medicine and graduate studies.

  • Underrepresented minorities should build effective mentorship relationships with a diversity of mentors.

  • Don’t overlook the importance of sponsors. Sponsors use their organizational capital and credibility to create opportunities to help you advance in your career.

  • Maintaining relationships outside of medicine and academia can help to combat feelings of isolation as a minority.

  • Take advantage of resources created to provide equitable support for minorities.

On the other hand, although retention is an issue in the MD-PhD pathway for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour students, so is recruitment. These students are severely underrepresented among MD-PhD program matriculants. Moreover, diversity and inclusivity issues have been reported among LGBTQ+ medical students. Fear of discrimination prevents non-cis-gender students from disclosing their gender identity. Lack of support in training programs also contributes to the underrepresentation of students with disabilities, including hearing, vision, cognitive, mobility, and independence impairments. Supporting a diverse population of MD-PhD trainees is essential to establishing a diverse, productive, and innovative workforce of physician-scientists.

This chapter positions the topic of diversity within the context of physician-scientist training, written with underrepresented minorities in mind. If you identify as an underrepresented minority and are considering, beginning, ...

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