Our Chicago: Urgent need for Latina doctors

Latinas make up just over 2% of all US doctors, UCLA study found

ByBlanca Rios WLS logo
Wednesday, October 11, 2023
Our Chicago
WLS

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A good doctor can be hard to find.

Especially when you are a patient who is most comfortable being treated by a female physician who is Latina, Spanish-speaking and bicultural. Meaning, someone who understands your families' traditions and challenges.

Latina doctors are, in fact, a rarity.

WATCH: Our Chicago Part 1

A good doctor can be hard to find. Especially when you are a patient who is most comfortable being treated by a female physician who is Latina, Spanish-speaking and bicultural.

A new UCLA study found Latinas comprise just over 2% of all physicians in the U.S, despite Hispanics making up 18% of the nation's population. In Chicago, Latinos make up nearly one third of the population.

Dr. Pilar Ortega is the Vice President of Diversity Equity and Inclusion with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

The Chicago-based nonprofit sets and monitors voluntary professional education standards essential in preparing physicians to deliver safe, high-quality medical care to Americans.

In her role, Dr. Ortega works to improve retention and well-being for diverse resident and fellow physicians.

Ortega also works in the Emergency Room of Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

Ortega said the shortage of Latina doctors is having an impact on the future of healthcare.

"The tremendous underrepresentation of Latinas in medicine matters in healthcare because patients have greater trust and satisfaction and actually it's proven they have better outcome so their health is better when they receive care from a health professional who looks or sounds like them," said Ortega.

Overall, Ortega said both Latina and Latino doctors are scarce.

"We are in fact so underrepresented in medicine that according to a recent study, we would need to double the number of matriculating Latino medical students every year for 92 years to correct the deficit in representation," Ortega said.

According to Ortega part of the problem starts in medical school.

SEE ALSO: Urgent need for Spanish-speaking, bicultural Latino nurses in Chicago, country

"We're constantly getting the message that we don't belong," Ortega said. "It runs so deep that it's baked into criteria for getting accepted into programs."

Ortega is working on developing language proficiency standards for doctors.

"In the United States we haven't really valued multilingualism over time," said Ortega. "Young students who come from households where Spanish or other languages are often viewed falling behind or they're viewed as having a deficit rather than having a valuable skill."

WATCH: Our Chicago Part 2

A new UCLA study found Latinas comprise just over 2% of all physicians in the U.S, despite Hispanics making up 18% of the nation's population.

Dr. Juanita Mora is a physician and the CEO at the Chicago Allergy Center in the city's Portage Park neighborhood.

She is a leader in the field of allergy and immunology. Doctor Mora was born and raised in Chicago and is a daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico.

Mora said she can pinpoint the exact moment she wanted to be a doctor. She said she was seven-years-old and in the waiting room playing translator for her mother. Mora said remembers asking her mother why it was taking so long see a doctor. "And she turned around and said to me because there's not enough doctors who speak Spanish," recalled Mora.

Mora would later face a similar situation in medical school.

"It was very lonely at time," said Mora. "I knew I had to be very hard working and I also knew that I had to be at the top of my class to gain that respect and admiration not only from my professors but from my peers as well."

But she persevered and eventually realized that her identity and language skills mattered in her field.

"Little by little I found out that being bicultural and bilingual was actually my super power," said Mora.

That super power helping her educate her patients.

"When I speak Spanish to those grandparents there's a sigh of relief," said Mora. "With the kids I can talk a little Spanglish and bond with them that way as well too."

She even helps to debunk the "vaporu" myth.

"So when they tell me that they've been wheezing and rubbing Vapor Rub all over their chest I know where they're coming from," she laughs. "It's our culture. This is what we do but I can also take that time to educate them and say well let me teach you about inhalers, let me teach you about asthma and we can make both worlds meet halfway."

Her advice to aspiring Latina doctors includes being involved. Mora is the national medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association, she serves on the board of the American Academy of Allergy and is leadership fellow for the National Hispanic Medical Association.

"You want to sit at as many tables as possible to change the narrative to break down the barriers," said Mora