The Latino population in the United States continues to grow, but the same cannot be said for the number of Latino doctors in the country. In fact, new research from UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture shows the number of Latino doctors has actually declined over the last 30 years.
This is disappointing news for Latinos, who studies show fare better in terms of health when they have access to culturally-relevant care, providers who can speak their language, and physicians who share a heritage and thus foster a sense of trust.
The shortage is even more concerning when taking into account the fact healthcare providers in general are too few in number.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) indicates by the year by 2020, the nations will need 91,500 new doctors to meet population demands, and by 2025, 130,600 new doctors will be needed.
The current rate of medical school graduates currently doesn’t come near meeting those demands, and government policies continue to hold back progress in this area.
“While medical schools and teaching hospitals are working hard to revamp health care delivery models and pioneer new medical innovations, we also believe that our nation needs a modest increase of 4,000 doctors a year,” wrote AAMC President Darrell G. Kirch, M.D.
“Given the time it takes to educate and train a new physician (a minimum of seven years from the start of medical school), we need to begin this modest increase now; time spent on debate about idealized scenarios that may or may not prove true could be critical time wasted.”
Kirch also indicated medical schools have increased their enrollments since 2006, but the nation cannot increase the overall supply of physicians unless Congress lifts the cap on residency training slots that has been in place since the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.
So, not only are there too few doctors regardless of race/ethinicity, there are even fewer doctors of Latino heritage, which means fewer doctors that can breach language and cultural barriers in the Latino community.
“Our research finds a very concerning trend of a growing Latino population that may not have the ability to find physicians who can provide language and culturally concordant care,” said UCLA lead researcher Dr. Gloria Sanchez in a press release.
“It demonstrates the urgent need for analysis of how the rapidly growing Latino population will have adequate access to high-quality care both now and in the future.”
Sanchez and her team found in 1980, there were 135 Latino physicians for every 100,000 Latinos in the U.S.; by 2010, that figure had dropped to just 105 per 100,000.
This drop was seen despite the increased efforts of the medical community to boost physician output. In fact, only the number of Latino doctors decreased; non-Hispanic white doctors increased from 211 for every 100,000 non-Hispanic whites to 315 per 100,000.
That’s a 22 percent drop in Latino physicians, compared to a 49 percent increase in non-Hispanic white physicians.
The study reveals a concerning trend in Latino physician availability, but the data did not explore why the disparity was occurring. Researchers must soon investigate if cultural influences, college bias, government policies, or lack of awareness have any role to play in the Latino physician decline.