The United States is currently experiencing a significant shortage of Latino doctors, leading to healthcare barriers, inequalities, and poorer outcomes for Latino patients. Despite Latinos making up 19% of the population, less than seven percent of all U.S. physicians are Latino. In response to this issue, National Latino Physician Day was established to shed light on the challenges faced by Latino doctors and encourage the next generation of Latinos to pursue careers in medicine.
Dr. Michael Galvez, a pediatric hand surgeon based in California, launched a national campaign last year to raise awareness about the obstacles encountered by Latino doctors. He believes that having a diverse workforce of plastic surgeons is crucial for a diverse patient population. In states like California, where there is a high percentage of Latinos, Asians, Blacks, and other ethnicities, it is vital to have doctors who can relate to and understand the needs of the entire population. Dr. Galvez emphasizes that patient-physician concordance, where the patient and physician share the same ethnicity, has been proven to improve outcomes through enhanced communication, cultural sensitivity, and higher patient satisfaction.
One significant advantage of having Latino doctors is their ability to bridge cultural and language gaps that often arise when treating certain patients. The ability to speak Spanish is especially valuable, as it allows physicians to effectively communicate important health information and ensure it is fully understood. Dr. Galvez underscores that being a physician involves more than just performing surgeries; it requires connecting with patients, educating them on post-operative care, and explaining the risks, benefits, and alternatives associated with surgery.
Dr. Galvez recognizes the lack of Latino physicians in the field of plastic surgery and the challenges this presents for aspiring doctors who are searching for role models and mentors. He encourages Latino medical students to seek guidance outside of their own divisions or departments and find someone who understands their background, values, and culture. This support is crucial in preventing burnout and increasing the chances of success. Dr. Galvez emphasizes the need for systemic changes to provide adequate support for minority students.
Having grown up with uninsured parents who immigrated from Peru, Dr. Galvez has firsthand experience with the difficulties many Latinos face in accessing medical care. He attributes his interest in medicine to his grandfather, a pediatric surgeon in Peru who was unable to practice in the U.S. Despite his personal experiences, Dr. Galvez strives to connect with patients from all walks of life, not just Latinos, and provide them with the best possible care.
Dr. Galvez calls on current plastic surgeons to actively participate in breaking down barriers for Latino medical students, not just on National Latino Physician Day, but throughout the year. He urges them to dedicate time to mentor underserved students, including Latinos, to ensure they receive the support they need to succeed in a complex and competitive specialty. By increasing the representation of Latino doctors in the field, the medical profession can better serve the needs of the diverse population it serves.