Diversity in the Health Professions

Medical Student Association Contributes to Reduction of Health Disparities

alifornia is one of the most diverse states in the nation. Available data, however, clearly indicate that California’s health care workforce fails to reflect the diversity of its population.

Studies also indicate that workforce diversity is important to the health and well-being of underserved communities. Ethnically and racially diverse health professionals are more likely to serve low-income, underrepresented minority patients and to practice in underserved areas.

“...for every Latino physician in the state there are 2,893 Latino Californians.”

The Chicano/Latino Medical Student Association (CLMSA) is making a difference in the development of a more diverse health workforce. With a two-year, $100,000 grant for core operating support from TCWF, the CLMSA is striving to improve health care in California’s underserved communities by increasing the admission of Chicano and Latino students to medical schools and by fostering the students’ continuous advancement.

UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture reports, in “The Latino Physician Shortage in California,” that for every Latino physician in the state there are 2,893 Latino Californians. Having health professionals reflective of the ethnic communities they serve can increase the comfort level of patients and increase the likelihood that they will understand and follow their health practitioner’s instructions.

“As educators and physicians, we need to understand the changing demographics of our population, how that impacts medical practice, and how we train new physicians, emphasizing cultural competency and focusing on the needs of underserved communities,” said Dr. Hayes-Bautista, CLMSA faculty advisor and director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture.

CLMSA was officially introduced as a statewide organization in September 1984. Currently, the association consists of approximately 500 medical students with 10 chapters across the state. CLMSA offers peer support through counseling and mentors to its student membership while encouraging all of its members to become active in health care at the local level. Each year, for example, the CLMSA at UCLA co-hosts the Olvera Street Health Fair, which provides medical services to more than 4,000 local, uninsured, largely non-English-speaking Chicano/Latino children and adults. CLMSA also holds an annual statewide conference. At this year’s conference in April, more than 300 physicians and other medical professionals, community leaders and students gathered to discuss health education; health administration; and the impact of socioeconomic status, age and gender on health service delivery and health policy as they relate to the Latino community.

“CLMSA benefits not only program participants, but also serves as an essential tool for the reduction of health disparities to improve the health of Californians as a whole,” said Alicia Procello, TCWF program director for the Diversity in the Health Professions priority area. “Increasing the diversity of the health workforce is likely to impact the health of underserved communities through increased access, quality of care and increased cultural competence of health providers.”

Summer 2002


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