MINORITY CARE: Physician Shortage Impacts Access
As Latino and African-American enrollment in California's medical schools plummets, activists are calling for reforms to relieve the resulting doctor shortages in the state's minority communities. The Los Angeles Times reports that "with one doctor for every 27,000 or so residents," predominately black and Latino communities are losing the battle to lure minority physicians to practice locally, a situation that has only grown worse since Proposition 209 eliminated many of the state's affirmative action programs to entice young minority medical students into primary care. Dr. Juan Villagomez, head of the Chicano Latino Medical Association, said that 28,000 additional doctors will be needed statewide to provide "roughly equal" access to health care for affluent and poor communities. But black and Latino enrollment in state medical schools has dropped by more than a quarter, from 19.2% in 1993 to 14% in 1998, even as "out-of-state enrollment for the same group of Californians" climbed 11%. The reason? California schools became "less hospitable" to minority applicants, while out-of-state schools continued to offer full scholarships and draw minority medical students.
Villagomez's group makes an example of the University of California-Irvine Medical School, which has "had the worse record for minority enrollment." The Times reports that since 1995, just 11 minority students have trained at UC Irvine, while 1,800 minority students have applied. Ralph Purdy, dean of admissions at the school, said that the school is trying to "reverse the situation," but "underrepresented" students are often denied entrance "because they tend to have lower entrance exam scores and grade-point averages than their competitors." Assembly Speaker and UC Regent Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) said the school needs to consider outreach programs and more scholarships to "address this medical priority." Dr. Rolando Castillo, head of the Coalition of Physicians From Latin America, suggested another resource for Latino physicians. Doctors trained in Latin America, he said, "are fully able to relate to the concerns of the Latino immigrants here on a level much more detailed than a simple diagnosis." However, competitive residency programs usually favor doctors trained in this country and international physicians are often edged out or spend months studying for their Medical Board of California exams while working unrelated, low-wage jobs (Olivo, 4/19).