FRESNO, Calif.(KSEE/KGPE) – This Hispanic Heritage month, a coalition of doctors nationwide are organizing the inaugural Latino Physician Day. The goal is to raise awareness about the shortage of Hispanic doctors, especially in the Central Valley.

“Only 6% of physicians are Latino and the United States is 19% Latino. The state of California is 39% Latino,” said Dr. Michael Galvez, a pediatric hand surgeon at Valley Children’s Hospital. “This disparity has to be addressed in some way, there has to be an improvement in the diversity of physicians.”

“At least in my department, I’m probably the only one right now,” shared Dr. Jorge Martinez Cuellar, medical director at Community Neuroscience Institute.

He says he’s having a hard time recruiting Hispanic doctors, “because we see a lot of Latino doctors in the east coast like New York, Chicago. But believe me, it’s a great opportunity for people to come to the Valley, this community is growing at an extraordinary pace.”

Medical experts say it’s important to speak the same language as their patients.

“Seventy-five percent of our patients, if not more, have Medi-Cal. So these are underserved families, most of them are Latino,” shared Dr. Galvez. “And as a Latino physician, it’s wonderful that I can knock on the door and be able to speak in Spanish to them.”

But it actually goes beyond speaking the language.

“You can see there are a lot of Hispanics that are having cardiovascular conditions, most of which are preventable. It’s cultural competency to know the behaviors, to know the beliefs,” said Dr. Martinez.

There are some efforts to get more Latinos into medicine.

“A good example is Mi Mentor, which is a nonprofit that helps students understand the challenging process of what it takes to get into medical school,” said Dr. Galvez, who added he started at a community college before working his way up to UC Berkeley, and later to Stanford University for a total of 18 years of schooling after high school.

The new California Medicine Scholars program was also launched this year to strengthen the community college to med school pathway. The state awarded funds to four universities to bridge that gap, including UCSF Fresno.

Doctors say these initiatives are great first steps but point out the unique challenges Latino students face.

“Some of it is related to coming in as an immigrant, being a first-generation Latino, having a different socioeconomic status,” said Dr. Galvez,

“We see people that have migrated from different countries already with a medical background who go through extensive training here,” said Dr. Martinez.

To learn more about Physician Latino Day, visit www.nationallatinophysicianday.com