A Latina physician speaking to a Black patient in a medical office.
Photo courtesy of the UCLA.

UCLA Institute finds Latinas heavily underrepresented as physicians


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In a new report released by the University of California, Los Angeles Latino Policy and Politics Institute (UCLA LPPI), the University has found that Latinas are heavily underrepresented as physicians in the U.S. and California, bringing to light numerous healthcare implications.

The UCLA LPPI emphasizes that there is a pressing need to address this lack of diversity in the medical field. Information used in the report was gathered from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) five-year estimates (2014‒18).

The report has found that despite Latinos comprising nearly 18% of the population in the country, the percentage of Latino physicians in the field is only 6.3%, with Latinas making up even less at 2.4% of the number of physicians.

In California, where 39% of the population is Latino, only 6.4% of physicians are Latino, scarcely higher than the national average. Latinas are only slightly more present as physicians, totaling at 2.7% of California physicians.

The report details that numerous factors can impact the patient-physician relationship, such as race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status.

For Latino patients whose preferred — or only — language is Spanish, there may be complications with their quality and access to healthcare when there is an absence of Spanish-capable Latino physicians, especially given that Latina physicians are 35.6 times more likely to speak Spanish than non-Hispanic White physicians.

In addition, when comparing female physicians to their male counterparts, female physicians spend more time with their patients, engage more often in patient-centered communication, and provide preventative care at a higher rate.

This comparison grows dire when analyzing Medicare patients that have been hospitalized. 

These patients, when treated by female hospitalists (physicians who practice hospital medicine) have notably lower mortality and readmission rates, and an estimated 32,000 patient deaths could be prevented were male hospitalists to achieve as much as their female counterparts on average.

Recommendations call for policymakers centered around improving education throughout all levels in order to improve upon rates of Latina matriculation from physician training programs.

Beginning with K-12, the report recommends directing state and federal investments into developing programs to both improve educators skills and improve upon expertise in making education strategies to promote engagement in STEM fields.

In Latinas’ premedical education, a more active role in advising and recruiting medical career students is required, such as disseminating best practices to community colleges and institutions, specifically Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). 

Additionally, support for community college students, such as scholarships, clinical exposure programs, research opportunities, and academic resources, should be further invested in at state levels across the country.

For Latina undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a medical education, admissions that promote inclusivity and prevent biases are key in breaking down a barrier for access. 

Those already studying for their medical degrees would benefit from protection of DACA and of the right for undocumented students to pursue medicine as a practice, and promote routes for long-term integration as legal permanent residents and citizens.

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