Minorities Underrepresented in Science and Medicine

New study reveals concerning lack of interest in STEM careers.

Despite the recent focus on improving and increasing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the United States, results from an online survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of University of the Sciences show that over half (51 percent) of all high school-aged students are not interested in pursuing careers in healthcare and the sciences.

Even more disconcerting is the increase in lack of interest from African American students, who are already tremendously underrepresented in the STEM workforce.

The 51 percent of 9th-12th grade students who say they are definitely or probably not considering a career in science or healthcare represents a 4.1 percent increase over last year's survey. The largest group contributing to this percentage is African Americans, with 61 percent of respondents declaring they are not interested in pursuing careers in healthcare and the sciences. Hispanic students are at 42 percent.

"A robust economic future depends upon the building of a strong, diverse workforce in STEM fields," said Peter J. Miller, PhD, PT, interim provost at University of the Sciences. "Unfortunately, this survey highlights a lack of engagement from our country's youth in the career fields that not only are projected to grow substantially over the next decade, but also have high earning potential."

Students not considering a career in healthcare and science cite numerous reasons for their lack of interest in these fields:

  • 21 percent feel they are not good at school subjects in healthcare/science;
  • 18 percent feel they do not know enough about healthcare/science careers;
  • 16 percent feel they are not ready to study healthcare/science in college;
  • 16 percent feel education for a healthcare/science degree would cost too much
"Our responsibility now is to teach students about the 'real world' application of their schoolwork and the spectrum of careers available in healthcare and the sciences," said Dr. Miller. "As a higher education institution dedicated to science and healthcare, USciences believes the STEM workforce can evolve and grow in its composition with a commitment to leadership. Parents, teachers, counselors and active STEM workers must mentor our youth, cultivate a passion for the sciences and encourage exploration into these rewarding futures."

Additional study highlights include:

The future looks bright for females. Although current statistics show that females make up less than 25 percent of the STEM workforce, the survey results indicate the future may bring an upward shift as an overwhelming majority of students interested in careers in the sciences are females. Fifty-seven percent of females in grades 9-12 indicate they are definitely or probably considering careers in healthcare or the sciences, while only 41 percent of males the same age feel this way.

East vs. west. Even with its reputation nationally as a hub for science and healthcare innovation, the East represents the smallest group of students in the country definitely or probably considering careers in healthcare or the sciences (37 percent). The portion of the country with the greatest interest is the West with 58 percent of 9(th)-12(th) graders indicating they are definitely or probably considering careers in these fields.

Scientist or nurse? Of high school students considering pursuing a career in healthcare and the sciences, 62 percent are most interested in healthcare professions, including nurse (27 percent), physician (26 percent) and pharmacist (14 percent). Other popular careers include scientist (33 percent) and medical lab technician (16 percent).

The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the University of Sciences between April 17-25, 2012 among 451 students in 9th-12th grade. Eight-to-17-year-old results were weighted as needed for age, sex, race/ethnicity, parental education, school location, and region. Eighteen-year-old results were weighted as needed for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, and household income. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Harris Interactive offers proprietary solutions in market and customer insight, corporate brand and reputation strategy, and marketing, advertising, public relations and communications research. Harris possesses expertise in health care, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

Founded in 1821, University of the Sciences is a private institution offering science and healthcare programs at its campus in Philadelphia. Programs include pharmacy, biology, physical therapy, healthcare business, and health policy. Visit www.usciences.edu


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