Send in the Doctors!

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentarios I remember going to a hospital for an emergency problem. I had become infected with a potentially dangerous virus called cellulitis. If not treated it could have required major surgery. Fortunately for me it was caught early and so I only needed medication. While I was at the hospital, an elderly couple came in for emergency treatment. However, they could only speak Spanish. The hospital did not have any Spanish speaking doctors, and the nurses were scrambling to look for someone on their staff who could speak Spanish. I will not name the hospital in question, but it is not a hospital in Chicago or the Chicago area. The thing is the hospital is located in an area where many of the residents are Latino. And yet the hospital did not have any Spanish speaking staff on duty at the time? If they had any then there were none on the night shift when there should have been Spanish speaking staff 24 hours a day. After all, a person’s life could depend on providing valuable information in an emergency situation.

Here is a frightening statistic. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there are only 4,459 Spanish speaking medical students training to become doctors out of a total 43,919 medical students in the entire country. What is significant about this figure is that it is a 23 percent increase in the number of Spanish speaking medical students enrolled to become doctors since 2004. Even with this increase the number is still too small. Latinos make up over 15 percent of the entire U.S. population. Yet there are more Indian doctors compared to Latino doctors. There are far more Spanish speaking nurses by comparison, but even their numbers are not enough where they may be needed. This makes for a scary situation. Why are the numbers so low? Well, I should point out that going into the medical profession is a very costly, time-consuming and difficult endeavor. As many as 40 percent of all medical students do not “make the grade” because of the stringent standards set by medical colleges and university programs. The average medical student can take six to eight years to complete the medical program. And even then a first-time doctor has to work in residency with a hospital or clinic since they needed real life training.

It is no wonder that this profession is well paying but extremely stressful and doctors as a rule usually retire by age 55 or just before 60. And with less than 10 percent of all young Latinos in this country entering college, this alone means few Latinos will be going into the medical professions. This is not good for Latinos, and this translates out to many Latinos, especially poor Latinos, not getting the help and quality health care they should get. And in an emergency situation where life and death hangs in the balance, a doctor or nurse knowing the language of a patient in question can indeed make a difference between life and death. Just as equally important are having doctors and nurses who understand health issues that affect Latinos in particular. Because there are not enough Spanish speaking medical personnel in so many parts of this country, something should be done about the situation so that quality health care can be provided for Latinos, especially poor Latinos who may live in out of the way places.

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