A Call for Doctors of Color: Latino Community
Updated: May 27, 2020
May 04 2020 ⋅ 6:30 P.M ⋅ Jennie Garcia ⋅ Editor: Guadalupe Sandoval⋅
Doctor visits were always a significant event growing up. Our family doctor’s office was always full of patients even after the office moved to a different location. The visit was basically a day long event, especially when we needed to take public transportation to our doctor’s office. But the care we received from our doctor always seemed worth it. Our primary care doctor had treated me and my family for most of my life, starting at around age 7. My mom was very comfortable with him as was I. As I grew older, I began to notice trends in the care that my family and I received from this particular doctor’s office.
His office was located in a highly Latino dense community. He and his staff were bilingual which was helpful not only for my family but for many of the other patients as well. Because my doctor spoke Spanish, it was easy for my mother to bring up any concerns she had. In addition to this, he was very patient oriented, always addressing patients’ concerns, even when he was tight on time, and was continually thorough. Like my mother, I knew that my doctor was trusted by many of his patients not only because he was able to speak Spanish but also because he attentively provided care for each of his patients. Even after he moved his practice, many of his patients followed and continued to fill his lobby.
Looking back at this, knowing that a large portion of his patients were Spanish speaking, I ask myself, did they also feel this way when they saw white doctors? Did they have a concern that they were not able to voice?
I didn’t think much about these trends until there were a couple instances in which I had to meet with non-Latino, specifically white, doctors. The appointment with both of the white doctors that I met on separate occasions was very different from that I had experienced with my primary care physician. Both my mother and I did not feel as comfortable with them as we did with our regular doctor because they seemed to rush through the examination and since they knew little to no Spanish it felt like our concerns were not fully communicated. In those moments, I did not feel comfortable asking any questions or bringing up any concerns. There was an unspoken language barrier, and even though I knew English, it wasn't enough to make up for the absence of my mother tongue.
Studies have demonstrated that Latino doctors are more likely than their white counterparts to serve densely Latino communities, yet nationally for the past 30 years there have been consistently less Latino doctors than their white counterparts.
Looking back at this, knowing that a large portion of his patients were Spanish speaking, I ask myself, did they also feel this way when they saw white doctors? Did they have a concern that they were not able to voice? Did this change their perspective or reinforced an idea that they had about healthcare and what it should be like? I wanted to learn more about this and began to research the topic.
My primary care physician was located in a very dense Latino city. Seeing the large number of patients in the lobby, I always wondered why so many came. Was there not another doctor near them that could provide the same sense of comfortability and quality of care? Studies have demonstrated that Latino doctors are more likely than their white counterparts to serve densely Latino communities, yet nationally for the past 30 years there have been consistently less Latino doctors than their white counterparts. Of those Latino doctors there are more Spanish speaking Latino doctors compared to white doctors. This, in conjunction with the fact that Latino doctors are more likely to work in a dense Latino community, contributes to the comfortability and trust that Latino patients have with their Latino health providers.
So why aren’t there more Latino doctors considering that there is such a high demand for them as Latino communities continue to grow throughout the United States and in already high dense Latino communities such as Santa Ana and Los Angeles in California?
In recent years, the shortage of doctors has become a growing concern that has not gotten enough attention. As a large portion of Americans age and millions more become insured under the Affordable Care Act, the demand for medical professionals continues to increase while the graduating classes of medical schools have been unable to keep up with demand. Furthermore, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported that 18% of the total medical school graduates, 19,938 in 2019, identified as Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish Origin.
When choosing a health care provider, many patients will choose or at least would prefer a doctor that they are able to connect to, whether that be through culture or language. And Latino patients have the right to feel this way. A study performed by Rocio Ridvadeneyra and her team, found that Latino patients were less likely to make a comment or bring up a concern regarding their health to an English-speaking doctor. Additionally those that did make comments were often ignored. As one might expect, these would most definitely lead to a lower quality of care which in turn lead to poorer medical outcomes. The need for a medical care provider that you can trust and who you feel can understand you is as important, and arguably more so than the medical knowledge that a physician holds.
It’s easy to ask why don’t Latinos just always see a Latino doctor, or sometimes, more specifically, a Spanish-speaking Latino doctor. But what is essential to understand are the barriers that make this difficult. With Latinos making up just a fraction of those graduating from medical school, it is not surprising to find that many of their offices are swamped by patients who simply have no other alternative considering the barriers they face such as language and location.
So what can be done? An article by Laura E. Martinez and others suggest some solutions. A large focus of their suggestions are the medical schools. In the late 60s and 70s in California, there had been predictions that there would be a surplus in physicians. To combat this, the number of spots for California residents for California medical schools decreased. Increasing the total number of California residents applicants accepted to the University of California Medical Schools, specifically Latinos, is a start as well as focusing on their retention and graduation. Additionally improving education for the communities to support Latino students interested in the healthcare field.
These methods could prove to be very effective. For many, they grow up hearing the phrase, “Don’t forget where you come from,” that with the fact that Latino doctors are more likely to serve densely Latino communities, compared to their white counterparts, will help ensure that underserved Latino communities improve. Making these changes would help solve the Latino physician shortage and without a doubt help Latino dense communities by improving their health care experiences.
About the Author
Jennie Garcia is an undergraduate student at University of California - Los Angeles.