According to an UCLA study, the number of Latino doctors has dropped; between 1980 and 2010 alone, the rate plummeted from 135 doctors for every 100,000 Latinos in the U.S. to 105. The dwindling number has since created a sense of alienation among patients and their doctors. “Latino physicians tend to be that bridge, this critical piece of healthcare communication,” Dr. Gloria Sánchez told the Los Angeles Times last year.
This void is largely felt in California, where “the difference between a Spanish-speaking Latino doctor can mean the difference between a healthy and unhealthy community” according to Remezcla, as Latino doctors only account for five percent of the state’s physicians, while Latinos make up 40 percent of the state’s population.
Aside from language barriers, non-Latino doctors are also less likely to understand their Latino patients culturally, pointing to yet another pressing issue. “Latinos are very family-centric,” Dr. Silvia Diego told California Health Line. “We take care of our old, we learn traditional home remedies. It’s difficult to establish a patient-doctor relations if [doctors] don’t understand or dismiss cultural values. And then we wonder why there are large health disparities among Latinos.”
Signed into law last month, California’s Medical DREAMer Opportunity Act plans to widen the door of opportunity afforded to Latinos by allowing undocumented students to apply for state scholarships, an effort that can shift the narrative where only 6.3 percent of Latinos across the nation assume the titles of physician or surgeon.