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California’s failing to produce enough Latino doctors. What can be done?

It would take up to five centuries for the number of Latinx doctors to reach parity with white doctors in California, according to a 2018 UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI) analysis.

Five centuries isn’t just a health crisis, it could be a death sentence for millions of Latino patients in California.

Already we have seen that in California, Latinos make up the largest share of Covid-19 deaths in the state. Latinos account for 43.9% of the Covid-19 deaths but make up only 38.9% of the population, according to March 2022 statistics from the California Department of Public Health. 

No other racial or ethnic group has seen this amount of death. Whites are 36.6% of the state population and 34.2% of the deaths. Asian Americans are 15.4% of the population and 10.9% of deaths. Blacks are 6% of the population and 6.9% percent of the deaths, according to statewide data.

The high Latino death rate may be linked to multiple factors, including lower vaccination rates, occupation in essential industries and low insurance rates. But how different would things be if there were more Latino doctors – sources of community trust and information? 

We need more Latino doctors to meet the needs of Latino patients and support the overall health of the community.

The Latino doctor shortage is even more acute in California than in other states with large Latino populations, such as Texas, Florida and New York

Latino doctors also are needed to help bridge language and cultural barriers. Almost 6 in 10 Latino adults had a difficult time communicating with a health care provider because of a language or a cultural barrier, according to a 2018 poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Beyond Covid-19, Latinos also face many other health disparities that could be alleviated with the help of trusted relationships with doctors that look like them.

One in two Latinos will develop diabetes in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Latinos also have a higher prevalence of chronic kidney disease and cirrhosis. With diabetes and chronic diseases, not having a Latino doctor to confide in or on hand to carefully explain medication use could mean life or death.

More Latino doctors can also mean improved mental health outcomes for Latinos mental health. Latinos are less likely to receive treatment for depression, anxiety, and other behavioral problems due to barriers to accessing care and stigma surrounding behavioral health problems, according to The Commonwealth Fund.

Here are possible solutions inspired by a 2019 LPPI analysis:

  1. Develop K-12 math and science tracks and more STEM programs like the Si Puedo program at Cal State Long Beach to prepare and recruit the next generation of Latinx doctors into undergraduate programs and then medical school.
  2. Admit more Latinos into medical school, support groups like the Latino Medical Student Association and fund new programs where there is the greatest need. 
  3. Increase the residency slots in California by expanding training opportunities in state hospitals and community clinics of medically and linguistically underserved communities.
  4. Offer loan repayment programs to Latinx medical school graduates who commit to primary care in California for at least five years.
  5. Call on the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, Xavier Becerra, the first Latino to hold the office, to address the doctor shortage with policy proposals and federal funding.

 We can’t wait 500 years to fix the problem as the health of our community is at stake.