Healthcare panelists share the importance of diversity in the workplace

Healthcare career professionals spoke to Minnesota State University, Mankato students Tuesday about the importance of diversity within their field in hopes of peaking interest and educating them on potential career paths.

The behavioral health workforce report put out by the Minnesota Department of Health showed that, across all disciplines within the behavioral health care field, 91% of behavioral health care providers are white. 

Kenneth Reid, director of African American & Multicultural Affairs, shared his intentions for this event.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure people of color are represented in the mental health and behavioral health programs as well as have the same opportunities of employment,” Reid said.

Although the stigma around mental health has decreased, the number of individuals who are seeking help has increased. 

The lack of diversity within the behavioral health workforce was a point that was highlighted at this event.

Also discussed during the event is how important the relationship between the provider and the patient is, as this is a crucial factor to determine if someone gets better.

“If my dentist doesn’t look like me or understand my background, as long as he knows where to put that drill I’m okay with it. But if I’m talking about my historical struggles and the place that I come from I want the person sitting across from me to have an understanding of what that means, and when 9 out of 10 providers are white, it is not possible to have that understanding,” Thad Shunkwiler, Assistant Professor of the Department of Health Science and MNSU alumna, stated. 

“I can count on one hand the number of diverse mental health professionals I know and I know a lot of people in this field. This is very unfortunate because when you walk down the halls of this campus and go into our community you know we have a diverse representation and their needs are not being met by the behavioral health providing community,” said Shunkwiler.

While the majority of providers are predominately white, those who are seeking help come from all different backgrounds.

Expressed was how far more people need mental health support than providers joining the field nowadays. 

Haddy Jagne, a senior at MNSU double majoring in alcohol and drug studies and social work, was one of the five panelists who spoke about their experience within their field of expertise. 

“My first impression during the intro classes I took was I thought it was a white person major because I didn’t have any friends in that major that looked like me,” Jagne said. 

“At the end of the day not all of the people who come for help are white, they are all different kinds of races and since I am from West Africa I know that back home there’s a lack of knowledge about certain areas of study which is why I wanted to learn more about it,” continued Jagne.

Hosting events like this is one way this program is taking initiative to educate students about these opportunities as students are more likely to go into career fields they have had experience in or exposed to early on.

Funded by the Mayo Clinic Health System’s Everybody In grant, MNSU was able to conduct this event as well as bus over some students from Mankato East and West High School during the afternoon where a similar event took place. 

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