More than 18% of people in the United States are Hispanic, yet only 5% of U.S. doctors are Hispanic. We need a health care workforce that is diverse; that looks like and has had experiences like the public it serves; and is willing and ready to practice primary care in underserved areas, such as rural and inner-city communities where Hispanics more often live.
Research shows that minority physicians are more inclined to practice in areas with a high proportion of uninsured residents, and with a high proportion of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Studies also indicate that greater diversity among physicians is associated with improved access to care for racial and ethnic minority patients, greater patient choice and satisfaction, and better patient-clinician communication. Promoting physician diversity is therefore a practical, evidence-based approach to providing equitable access to care and achieving equitable health outcomes across U.S. populations.
However, Hispanic students are often discouraged from considering a medical career by a lack of role models, peer or family support, or strong educational foundation within their communities, schools, and families. These factors can make it difficult to complete college premedical studies.
The National Hispanic Health Foundation (NHHF), the nonprofit arm of the National Hispanic Medical Association with a mission to improve the health of Hispanics and underserved communities through education and research activities, is working to advance diversity in medical education with support from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation.
As a result of our efforts, the Health Resources and Services Administration has now adopted a cohort model for recruitment and retention of underrepresented students to medical school. This approach will help the Health Careers Opportunity Program to be more effective in mentoring and tracking its pipeline of students.
Congressman Raul Ruiz introduced legislation for the Higher Education Act to include language for Hispanic Serving Institutions to focus on counseling and mentoring their students on premed pathways.
Now, we are focused on ensuring standardized approaches to medical Spanish training in medical schools by producing a directory of curricula and programs in medical Spanish and developing a Medical Spanish Certification Commission.
NHHF will continue to push efforts to increase Hispanics in medical education and research and foster overall diversity in our healthcare workforce.
We’re also focused on preparing today’s Hispanic health care professionals for a future in which they will be in demand as leaders at the forefront of developing the innovative programs for the growing diverse American population—for population health and prevention as well as for medical care and behavioral health care. This has included appointing Hispanic health care professionals to be speakers and mentors, and through the National Hispanic Health Professional Leadership Network, we support the HispanicHealth.info portal, which provides health care professionals with information about health disparities affecting the Hispanic community.
As our population grows increasingly diverse, it’s critical that our health care workforce adapt and change too. Only then will we be able to meet the health care needs and improve the health of all Hispanics in the United States.