In the past 30 years, the number of Hispanic physicians has not kept pace with growth in the number of Hispanic residents within the general U.S. population, according to a recent analysis from Academic Medicine.
In 1980, the nation had 135 Hispanic physicians per 100,000 Hispanic patients, according to the analysis. By 2010, that number dropped to 105 physicians per 100,000 patients. In the same time period, the number of white physicians per 100,000 white patients rose from 211 to 315.
Hispanic patients suffer from higher rates of diabetes, hypertension and obesity. Physicians who speak Spanish and are familiar with Hispanic cultures are better equipped to work with these patients and treat their chronic diseases, says George Mychaskiw, DO.
“We all know that culturally appropriate care is better medical care,” he says. “A health care workforce that looks like the local population will naturally deliver better care.”
Dr. Mychaskiw is working to build a physician population that more closely mirrors the local population in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where a new osteopathic medical school is in development. The Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine at New Mexico State University is slated to open next fall; Dr. Mychaskiw, the school’s dean and chief academic officer, plans to recruit at least 25% of the school’s students from the area’s heavily Hispanic and Native American local population.
“By aggressively and actively recruiting from the local population, from the local culture, we hope to gradually change the demographic of the health care workforce,” he says. “It may take a long time, but even incremental changes will help, given the continued disproportion between Latino population growth and the diversity of the health care workforce.”
One student at a time
Like Dr. Mychaskiw, administrators and students at other osteopathic medical schools in states with large Hispanic populations are taking steps to improve the diversity of the profession one student at a time.
Roughly 8% of the nearly 18,000 applicants to osteopathic medical schools for the 2014 entering class checked the “Hispanic/Latino” box on the application, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM). Some of those applicants weren’t accepted—just 6% of 2014’s matriculates at osteopathic medical schools were Hispanic.*
Hispanic residents comprise 17% of the U.S. population, according to 2013 U.S. Census data.
But some osteopathic medical schools have significantly more Hispanic students. Twelve percent of current students at The University of North Texas Health Science Center Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNTHSC/TCOM) in Fort Worth are Hispanic, according to AACOM; the school has increased its Hispanic population by more than 40% in the past decade.
The increase is the result of several factors, including an institutional focus on greater diversity, says Mike Kennedy, UNTHSC/TCOM’s director of admissions.
“Our admissions committee wants diversity to be part of the educational experience,” he says. “It makes for better teaching and better learning.”
TCOM’s interest in diversifying its student body was bolstered by the fact that the school has seen a massive increase in Hispanic applicants as Texas’ Hispanic population has grown—the school’s applications from Hispanic students have jumped 60% since 2011.
Kennedy and Fernando Vasquez, UNTHSC/TCOM’s assistant director of admissions, have recruited Hispanic students by visiting Texas undergrad institutions with high Hispanic populations and inviting students from those schools to visit UNTHSC/TCOM.
UNTHSC/TCOM’s Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) chapter is also a crucial source of support and outreach, says Vasquez, the club’s faculty adviser. LMSA members often sit on panel discussions and take prospective students on personalized campus tours—they show undergrads that students just like them have become successful future physicians at UNTHSC/TCOM.
“It allows students to say, ‘Here’s a student from the Rio Grande Valley or from El Paso,’ ” Vasquez says. “The LMSA plays an instrumental part in showing that presence on campus. It’s a presence that many Hispanic students look for. Without it, many students will feel intimidated or isolated.”
Miguel Rodriguez, OMS I, first met Vasquez back in 2012. Rodriguez was a college sophomore when he interviewed to join Texas’ Joint Admission Medical Program, which assists underserved students who wish to become physicians.
“Fernando said that TCOM, at that time, was lacking diverse students,” says Rodriguez, who now attends UNTHSC-TCOM. “He was looking forward to increasing the school’s diversity.”
Later, Vasquez told Rodriguez about the LMSA; he said the group of students worked together to make themselves feel more at home and also to raise awareness of Hispanic culture among other students.
Talking to Vasquez about the LMSA and diversity made Rodriguez more interested in attending the school; next year, he will be the LMSA’s president.
A motivating presence
Angie Alegria, OMS II, was drawn to the Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine (NSU-COM) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in part because the school had a large Hispanic population. Fourteen percent of NSU-COM’s current students are Hispanic; the figure has more than doubled since 2001 and is the highest out of all of the osteopathic medical schools, according to AACOM.
“I have found a lot of mentors within Nova’s College of Osteopathic Medicine,” she says. “I’m also involved with the public health program, which happens to include a lot of Hispanic men and women.”
Alegria is also the president of NSU-COM’s Hispanic Osteopathic Medical Student Association (HOMSA). HOMSA has educated Hispanic high school students on medical school by visiting a local high school and meeting with its health professions club, she says.
The first in her family to pursue medical school, Alegria was inspired by her pediatrician.
“The fact that she was a Hispanic woman really motivated me,” she says. “It showed me this is something I can do, even though nobody in my family is a doctor.”
Alegria hopes to follow in her pediatrician’s footsteps in more ways than one—she also wants to serve as a role model in her community.
“I’d like to encourage other minorities and underserved populations to follow a path similar to mine,” she says. “I plan to provide mentorship and support to other young individuals who want to do the same thing I did.”
*Note: The data from AACOM’s applicant and matriculant report does not include UNTHSC-TCOM because that school uses a different application system.