Health

California needs more Latino doctors, group says

A doctor examines a pregnant woman.
A doctor examines a pregnant woman.
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The number of Latino doctors in California is not keeping pace with the state's growing Latino population, and that gap is only expected to widen, according to a physicians group.

The group, Latino Physicians of California, published a policy brief Friday highlighting the problem and potential solutions, which include partnering with other medical associations to persuade young Latinos to pursue careers in health care.

Latinos comprise nearly 40 percent of California's population, but just 4 percent of the state's physicians are Latinos, according to the California Health Care Foundation.

That ratio isn't likely to improve anytime soon, Latino Physicians of California says. More than one-third of the state's current Latino physicians plan to retire within a decade.

And the pipeline to replace those aging doctors is running dry: The group says Latinos comprised just 9 percent of the students who enrolled in the state's medical schools last year.

The group says this shortage can affect Latino patients, who suffer from high rates of obesity and diabetes. Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities, says Latino doctors who know the culture and speak Spanish are better positioned to help patients manage those conditions.

"There is data that shows that when Latinos are being served by Latino physicians […] that they stick to the treatment that is prescribed, they continue in treatment, they don't drop out," Aguilar-Gaxiola said. "There are better outcomes, and there is a greater satisfaction with the services. It matters tremendously."

In a survey of 268 doctors conducted by Latino Physicians of California, more than 93 percent of respondents said they "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that the group should partner with other medical associations to promote health careers among young Latinos.

Aguilar-Gaxiola also recommends connecting with Latinos students at community colleges "to try to empower them and to help them dream high, reaffirming them and reassuring them that if they are willing to work very hard, that it is possible."