As a Mexican-American youth growing up in Kansas City, John K. Lynch, DO, didn’t have many physician role models. It wasn’t until he entered medical school and residency training that he connected with mentors who could lend advice and help guide his career.
A recent Academic Medicine analysis revealed that the number of Hispanic physicians in the U.S. has declined over the past 30 years, failing to keep pace with growth among the Latino patient population. Education challenges, language barriers and a lack of physician mentors are major factors contributing to the decreased number of Hispanic physicians.
In light of these obstacles, many DOs are making significant strides toward building the number of Hispanic physicians and improving Latino health care.
“Hispanic physicians have a better understanding of the culturally determined factors that impact the health of Hispanic patients,” explains Dr. Lynch, a staff clinician with the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “They are more likely to care for Hispanic communities, to provide health care to populations that are medically underserved, and to speak Spanish.”
At the NIH, Dr. Lynch has served as a program officer for the research center’s Office of Minority Health and Research, which aims to increase racial and ethnic diversity in biomedical research. Focusing on undergraduate institutions with high numbers of underserved or minority students, the program has guided more than a dozen schools through the process of developing neuroscience programs.
“Our hope is that if minority scientists come into the field, they will have an interest in focusing on minority issues or on disorders that affect minorities,” says Dr. Lynch.
Rebeccah Rodriguez, DO, is also working to improve Hispanic health. Last year, she and a colleague established the Latina Strong foundation with the goal of addressing the high rate of obesity and diabetes within the Latino community. The foundation promotes exercise and healthy eating for Hispanic women, explains Dr. Rodriguez, a San Diego family medicine sports physician with Spanish, Portuguese and Mexican heritage.
“If we can inspire women to be healthy, exercise and take time for themselves, they can spread that down the line to their husbands and children,” says Dr. Rodriguez.
Mentorship is another way DOs can give back. Alfredo Rabines, DO, mentors Latino youth through the Atlas: DIY program.
“It’s really tough because the basic educational system does not prepare lower-income populations for the more competitive fields of study,” says Dr. Rabines, a Peruvian-American emergency physician in Bayonne, New Jersey. “And many students are also dealing with a language barrier—it’s a double challenge.”