WASHINGTON -- The nation's health system must recruit a more diverse work force to face the complex health problems of an increasingly multiracial America, a commission concludes in a sweeping report released Wednesday.

Blacks, Hispanics and other racial minorities are becoming a larger portion of the population, yet with the exception of Asian Americans, few become doctors, and the number entering medical school has dropped over the last couple of years.Minorities are much more likely to work in inner cities and other underserved minority communities, making recruitment a crucial issue, argues the fourth and final report from the Pew Health Professions Commission, which has been working for a decade. Those who work in these underserved areas are more likely to speak the languages and understand the lives of their patients.

At the same time, minorities suffer from a variety of ailments at higher rates than whites.

The commission, chaired by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, concludes that it is essential for the health profession work force to diversify itself.

"This is not a quota born out of a sense of equity or distribution of justice, but a principle that the best health care may need to be delivered by those that fully understand a cultural tradition," the report says.

While more than 12 percent of Americans are black, just 3 percent of doctors are; more than one in 10 Americans are Hispanic, but just one in 20 doctors are. Last year, 12 percent fewer minority students entered medical school than the year before.

Dr. Miguel Stubbs can testify to the difference a black doctor makes in a black community. An internist at West End Medical Center in Atlanta's inner city, he returned to the black community for a simple reason: "I wanted to help my people."

But it wasn't easy to become a doctor, he said, explaining that his grades in college were only fair.

"The hardest thing about medical school is getting in," he said. "You've got to convince someone to give you a chance."

The Pew panel recommends that professional schools use nonacademic criteria in admissions decisions, including ethnicity, cross-cultural experience and commitment to community service.