MINORITY HEALTH: Latino Doctor Shortage Hurts Latino Patients
The shortage of Latino doctors in California is not an affirmative-action issue, but rather "one of access to medical care for 10.4 million Latinos in California," David Hayes- Bautista and Robert Stein of UCLA's Center for the Study for Latino Health and Culture say in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. While the ratio of non-Latino doctors to non-Latino patients is one to 335, the ratio of Latino doctors to Latino patients is one to 2,893. Hayes-Bautista and Stein argue that the "fewer the number of Latino doctors, the greater the risk that infectious diseases, for example, may endanger public health." Access to Latino doctors can make a difference in Latinos' health, the authors state, asserting that Latino physicians are "far more likely to be established in heavily Latino areas," where physicians are in short supply. In addition, most Latino physicians are fluent in Spanish and can "effectively" communicate with Spanish-speaking patients. Because Latino physicians also are "more than just culturally sensitive" to Latinos' needs, they "can anticipate problems" and understand how to "motivate Latino patients to work with them" to protect their health. California faces a shortage of Latino doctors, particularly because Latino enrollment in medical schools has declined, as has the number of Latino international medical graduates that the state allows to practice. Unless something is done, Hayes-Bautista and Stein maintain that in 20 years, the ratio of Latino physicians to Latino patients will be one to 5,157.
To address the situation, Hayes-Bautista and Stein offer three options. First, they suggest that medical schools' admissions committees give "greater weight to skills and knowledge that better serve the state's changing demographic profile than the highest possible MCAT." A second option is to provide training and education for non-Latino physicians who would like to become "fluent in cultural motivation for a Latino patient base." Lastly, Hayes-Bautista and Stein argue that California should raise the number of international medical graduates that can practice in the state and "target their skills in areas where they are most desperately needed." Hayes-Bautista and Stein conclude, "While non-Latino Californians do not have to think twice about finding a physician to communicate with, for Latino Californians, this is becoming an insurmountable barrier" (Hayes- Bautista/Stein, Los Angeles Times, 10/1).