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Latinos underrepresented in California's physician pool

A young boy and his dad are rushed to the hospital in the aftermath of an accident. A surgeon begins operating on the father right away, but the one assigned to the boy balks, exclaiming: "I can't operate on him. This child is my son!"

Impossible, right? Wrong: The surgeon is the boy's mom.

Most of us have heard this riddle, which plays on old assumptions about gender roles to create the illusion of conflicting fact.

While the percentage of physicians who are women has nearly quadrupled over the last four decades, new figures from the California Health Care Foundation confirm that other demographic groups - namely, Latinos - are still vastly underrepresented in the medical profession:

While Latinos represent almost 40% of the population, only 5% of the state's physicians are Latinos, a fact that could have implications for language and cultural aspects of care.

A recent report, based on data from Stanford and UCSF, highlighted the importance of maintaining a physician workforce that's representative of an increasingly diverse state population:

Research shows that when patients are treated by physicians of a similar ethnic background, the communication is superior and the quality of care is enhanced. Greater physician diversity is critically needed not only in patient care, but in all aspects of research, teaching and public service.

While Stanford and UCSF were early national leaders in diversifying their medical school populations, those successes aren't enough, said the study authors:

If improvements in the diversity of medical students and physicians are going to be achieved in the future, major adjustments must be made at all educational levels reaching back to kindergarten. Actions are also required at the state and federal levels in health and education policy as well as by private foundations, which have played a critical role in enhancing opportunities for low-income and minority students.

It's not just Latinos who are missing from California's health care system; the state faces a general scarcity of primary care doctors. And that problem scales up: The Wall Street Journal reported in April that we'll be short 150,000 of them nationally over the next 15 years.

Via Covering Health
Previously: Report explores student diversity in medical schools

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