In America, just 5.7% of physicians are Black. This extreme lack of Black representation in the healthcare industry has implications across the board – from medical school matriculation to patient outcomes in Black communities, to health equity overall. 

While enrollment of Black medical students is slowly on the rise, what about the Black doctors of today? The healthcare communications industry has a refined and intentional process when it comes to knowing our audience. We expound on the importance of understanding the HCP journey and the barriers they may face. But what about the 5.7%? We are doing a disservice to Black physicians and their communities if we don’t double-click into ways that their experience differs from that of the 56% of white-identifying HCPs, and become more inclusive with our practices, programs, and recommendations. 

One barrier that is particularly relevant to this conversation is whether Black HCPs feel a sense of belonging in the industry. We are all driven by a need to belong. Wanting to feel connected to and understood by others is a basic human need. And this need can be violated if we believe we're seen as an outsider or if we feel separated from others. 

It may come as no surprise that most Black HCPs do not have a strong sense of belonging within the industry . Data from our Mindset Engine reveals that only 36% of Black physicians feel represented in the healthcare industry, and that 66% of Black physicians believe they must work harder than their peers for the same result (compared to 42% for all physicians).  

“I decided to leave bedside medicine and go to work in the CRO world for many of the reasons coming to light now,” said Dr. Keith Robinson, Senior Medical Director of Syneos Health. “A seat at the table is only inviting when it is in the same room as all the other invitees.  Add the rare number of Black Pulmonary/Critical Care doctors to the list, and you will find the numbers shockingly embarrassing in the US. Even at a top 5 US training program, the isolation I felt I can still feel 17 years later.”  

The Mindset Engine also found that 81% of Black HCPs reported they would like to see a greater focus on diversity in healthcare, a much higher percentage compared to the overall percentage of HCPs that agree.  

As healthcare communicators, we can use these data points to crystallize part of our role in driving more belonging for Black HCPs. Part of the solution comes down to how we encourage our brands to show up online (and otherwise). On the heels of Black History Month, we’ve all been inundated with messages of diversity from brands across all industries. But we know by now that it takes more than a social campaign to build connections. It’s time to ask ourselves what it means to help create authentic relationships between brands, Black physicians, and Black patients.  

Ways Pharma can encourage a sense of belonging for Black HCPs: 

Integrate the perspective of Black HCPs. 

Be intentional about inclusion throughout the healthcare experience, from clinical trial designs to KOL programs to health equity plans. We can achieve this by collaborating with Black HCPs to leverage their perspectives and insights to support more inclusive practices like:  

  • better enrollment experiences for Black patients 
  • more diverse representation in market research  
  • more engaging and impactful patient care

The more we include the perspectives of Black HCPs in our work, the more we encourage medical screenings, diagnosis, treatments, and efficacy for their patients.  

Visually show Black HCPs.  

It sounds simple, but it is sometimes overlooked when developing marketing and advertising plans.  Consider doing an audit of your commercials, social, digital and print assets, health literacy materials, educational materials for HCPs online or print, medical affairs sales communications, etc., to see how your brand is including Black HCPs. Visual representation matters.    

Amplify the voices of Black HCPs. 

From industry conferences to podcasts to social media posts to media opportunities – tap a Black physician.  Intentionally make space for Black HCPs to serve as trusted messengers who can deliver trusted messages.  And yes, the Black HCP’s voice is critical to address medical conditions that disproportionately impact the Black community, but there’s also plenty of opportunity to amplify their voice beyond that as well – and not just on media that target a primarily Black consumer base. Check your thought leadership plans, marketing, media and PR plans, journals, healthcare communications plans – have you been purposeful about including Black HCPs as subject matter experts?  

Sustain the relationship with Black HCPs. 

Don’t just knock on the Black HCP’s door when you need a healthcare advocate to reach the Black community or to influence a policy or upcoming approval. Authenticity and longevity are everything, especially now. Remember, HCPs are also key stakeholders. Pharma companies need to invest in nurturing quality relationships with the HCPs and patient communities they serve at every step of the program. Fortify these relationships and strengthen trust to advance more equitable healthcare solutions. And that can be a unifying goal.  

About the Author:

Lucy is an Executive Vice President at Syneos Health Communications, where she manages a robust client portfolio of leading biotech and pharmaceutical companies, including Fortune 100 global organizations. She brings forth over 20 years of expertise in healthcare and financial services communications, specializing in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, change management, corporate strategy, and product lifecycle comms. One of her most prized achievements is co-launching the Syneos DEI Advisory Council, a cohort of external luminaries who provide insights and counsel in partnership with the Corporate Practice team on pressing DEI topics and trends. Prior to Syneos, Lucy led in-house corporate communication and PR teams for U.S. pharmaceuticals and financial services companies, working at Otsuka Americas Pharmaceutical Inc., Johnson and Johnson, and BlackRock. She spent her early career as a journalist working at CNN, ABC, CBS, and Gannett Newspapers.

She is an alumnus of the McKinsey Black Leadership Executive Program and a Council of Urban Professionals Fellow. She earned a B.A. from Rutgers University (broadcast journalism) and an M.S. from Syracuse University (print journalism).