March 22, 2002

Dearth of Latino Doctors to Serve Growing Population Won't Keep NHMA Members From Patriotic Duty

WASHINGTON — Uncle Sam's new national Medical Reserve Corps need not draft Hispanic doctors - they are ready and willing to serve, the National Hispanic Medical Association announced at its annual conference.

"While there is a critical shortage of Hispanic doctors in this country, we still must do our part to help our nation in emergency situations," Dr. Elena Rios, president of the National Hispanic Medical Association, said at the group's sixth annual convention. "Our Hispanic doctors are more than committed to join up with the Medical Reserve Corps to do their part for America and to help our communities in a public health crisis."

The Medical Reserve Corps will coordinate the skills of practicing and retired doctors and other professionals to provide communities with medical volunteers who can assist health officials in a crisis. President Bush's national program begins in June.

The program is one of the hot-button issues at the National Hispanic Medical Association's sixth annual conference March 22-24 at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The conference theme, "Healthy Hispanic Communities," encompasses all Americans, said Rios, who leads the association representing the nation's Hispanic doctors.

"We are Americans first, doctors second and Hispanic throughout. We are no strangers to the sacrifices we must make for our nation. Although our community's need is great, we must put our nation first," said Rios, referring to the shortage of Hispanic doctors to serve the burgeoning Hispanic population. "We are proud to be able to serve America and its Hispanic communities."

The conference highlights a troubling trend: the dearth of Latino doctors in the United States. Hispanics grew by 60 percent in the last decade, to 35.3 million, making up nearly 13 percent of the population.

At the same time, the number of Hispanic doctors plummeted, making up a mere 5 percent of the nation's 813,770 physicians. Hispanic patients who seek out Hispanic doctors who speak Spanish and understand their culture will have even less access to health care this year.

"Many of these physicians are retiring and won't be replaced fast enough to keep up with demand," Rios said. "We must recruit more Hispanics into medicine or the well-being of our communities and the nation will suffer."

Last year, the number of minorities applying to medical schools nationwide dropped by 4.5 percent - for the sixth year.

"That is a sad, sad statistic in light of the growing need both in our communities and in our post-Sept. 11 world of uncertainty," Rios said. "We don't need less minority representation in medical schools _ we need more, a lot more. One in four Americans will be of Hispanic origin by 2050. Medical schools must acknowledge that and increase their recruitment of Hispanic students. School districts nationwide need to encourage our best and brightest to enter the medical profession. NHMA doctors are helping to recruit young people into this noble profession, and are planning to develop scholarships to help those young Americans afford medical school."

The National Hispanic Medical Association represents licensed Hispanic physicians. Established in 1994, NHMA's mission is to improve health care for Hispanics. In partnership with the Health Resources and Services Administration, NHMA has continued the NHMA Leadership Fellowship with the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University and the NHMA Resident Leadership Program.

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