The growth in the proportion of Latino-identified medical school applicants and matriculants is slow, according to commentary published in the journal Academic Medicine.

The commentary, led by John Paul Sanchez, MD, MPH, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, is in response to the paper “Latino physicians in the United States, 1980-2010: A thirty-year overview from the censuses” and offers a number of solutions for developing the Latino physician workforce.

Background information provided in the commentary points out that the low numbers associated with this group of students is even seen when the definition of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in medicine has been broadened to include not only Latinos who are mainland Puerto Rican, U.S.-born Mexicans, and U.S.-born Cubans, but also Latinos who are from any Spanish-speaking country. Specifically, between 2002 and 2011, the proportion of Latino applicants grew minimally from 7.3% to 7.9%, and the proportion of accepted applicants increased slightly from 6.8% (1,193/17,592) to 8.4% (1,701/20,176). “More research is needed to understand the demographic characteristics (e.g., the nativity, gender, socioeconomic status, place of residence, educational experiences) of applicants and matriculants, the changes in their demographics over this same time period, and the impact of these characteristics on institutional climate, culture, and patient care.

The paper notes the importance of early intervention and calls for academic health centers (AHC) to get involved by working with K-12 educators. “AHCs may “grow their own” cadre of Latino physicians by supporting teacher preparation and offering after-school and weekend programs that enhance academic proficiency and/or part interest in careers in medicine and science,” the authors wrote. “Medical schools also need to begin or increase recruitment at institutions with significant Latino student bodies such as at Hispanic-servicing institutions and community colleges.”

What are the next steps? Dr. Sanchez and his team stated this: “The number of Latinos is rapidly growing— nearly one in three individuals in the United States will be Latino by 2050—thus, there is an urgent need for U.S. AHCs to proactively meet the needs of this population. Research on the outcomes of and best practices among our Latino physician pipeline programs is overdue. Hispanic-identified organizations, leaders, and health professionals must be engaged to inspire and recommend institutional innovation and excellence. Sánchez and colleagues call attention to the shortage of Latino physicians that has persisted for 30 years. We call on our colleagues to build the next generation of the Latino physician workforce and to develop the skills and knowledge of all health care professionals to address Latino health care and disparities.