October 7, 2020

In a time when Latinos constitute up to 41% of all COVID-19 cases in Washington state, Latino physicians could be a key factor in improving the long-term health outcomes for the state’s Latino community. However, a recent study conducted by the School's Latino Center for Health called “Today's Changes for Serving Tomorrow's Diverse Communities: Increasing the Latino Physician Workforce NOW,” found a significant shortage of Latino physicians in the state. To address this underrepresentation and promote health equity, the study report offers a set of policy recommendations for decision-makers to consider in creating policy.

This study was supported and funded by the state legislature and grew out of concerns expressed by a range of community healthcare providers and leaders about their perceived lack of Latino representation in the physician workforce in Washington. Key findings of the study include: 

  • Latinos represent 13% of the state population, and yet, only 3.4% (462) of 14,731 physicians who report being in active practice within Washington State self-identify as Latino.
  • Among Latino physicians, 70% report speaking Spanish compared with 12% of non-Latino physicians.
  • Several predominantly Latino counties in Central and Eastern WA do not meet the federal standard for ratio of primary care providers to population (1:3,500).
  • Twelve of the state’s counties have no Latino physicians and nine counties have fewer than one Latino physician per 3,500 Latino residents.

The impact of this disparity can worsen already disproportionate health outcomes afflicting the Latino community. As described by Dr. Leo Morales, co-Director of the Latino Center Health and principal investigator of this study, “The lack of culturally and linguistically competent doctors serving Latinos can lead to misdiagnosis, undertreatment and distrust between patients and doctors.” 

The policy recommendations in the report include: strengthening the pre-medical education system, increasing admissions of Latino applicants, expanding loan repayment and stipend programs, diversifying graduate medical education programs, leveraging the existing Latino healthcare workforce, creating a Latino physician professional organization, and expanding Latino health professions research and policy infrastructure. 

Read the full report here.