Number of Latino doctors not keeping up with Latino population growth

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The number of Latino doctors isn't keeping up with the growth of the Latino population in America. A new report in the journal Academic Medicine finds one out of every 1,000 Latinos is a doctor compared to three out of 1,000 non-Hispanic whites.

Jaime Flores knows how fortunate he is to have a doctor who speaks his language.

"It couldn't be better because you straight talk to the doctor and you can understand the doctor better," said Flores through an interpreter.

Dr. Anthony Gutierrez learned Spanish over the past three years. Then he took his use of it to the next level by coming to Cabot Westside Medical from a suburban practice. That was just two months ago.

"Already, I'm full essentially," said Dr. Gutierrez.

His practice is full of patients desperate to have a Spanish-speaking doctor.

"Medicine is about the relationship and if you don't speak the language, you can't take that relationship to the next level whether it's motivation or scolding," he said.

The director of the office of diversity at the K.U. School of Medicine says more than language matters. Patients want doctors who are culturally similar.

"They're more likely to follow treatment. They're more likely to come back," said Maria Alonzo.

She says alleviating the Latino doctor shortage can improve the health of Latinos. The medical school has started programs to strengthen the math and science skills of K-12 and college students and interest them in careers in medicine.

"Many times providing them with the opportunity to interact with a medical student who comes from a similar background. That is priceless for them," said Alonzo.

Dr. Gutierrez says he's thrilled to be at Cabot.

"I just love speaking the language, I love learning the new cultures," he said.

He's building doctor-patient relationships without barriers.

The K.U. School of Medicine has 18 first-year students who are Latino. That's up more than 50 percent since 2010. Alonzo says the school also wants all students to learn Spanish and be culturally prepared to treat Latino patients.

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