THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Glenn Llopis Headshot

Healthcare Industry Must Mirror the Growing Hispanic Population to Authentically Educate and Serve the Community

Posted: Updated:

The need for more Hispanic professionals in healthcare is critical. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, or four times the nation's 9.7 percent growth rate. At 50.5 million people today, Hispanics are already the largest minority in the U.S. and their numbers continue to rise faster than any other group. Yet, according to the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile, only 5 percent of physicians in the U.S. are Hispanic. This disparity contributes to the many tension points that exist between the healthcare industry and the Hispanic community, such as the lack of medical research specifically targeting Hispanics; the absence of healthcare information tailored for their needs; and their disproportionate burden of preventable disease, death, and injury.

As the numbers of Hispanics continue to increase, we need more Hispanic leaders and role models in all industries, but particularly in healthcare for two major reasons: 1) professional healthcare is not necessarily something Hispanics were raised with or see the value in, and therefore they may not seek it out; and 2) the urgency is greater in this industry because the lack of research and outreach to the community directly affects their health and well-being. The need for a more diverse workforce in order to serve a more diverse population of patients is increasingly becoming a priority, and as a recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out, in the healthcare and insurance industries, the race is on to connect with, educate and recruit this increasingly influential group. On its website, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) "recognizes a unique and compelling need to promote diversity in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical, and social sciences research workforce."

With this sense of urgency to increase diversity in the healthcare industry comes the immediate need for more Hispanic talent in the medical community, and there are a number of groups and organizations who are hard at work to attract and retain top talent, such as the Association of Hispanic Healthcare Executives (AHHE); the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN); and the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA).

Additionally, a 2011 Fox News Latino article featured an organization called Health and Science Pipeline Initiative (HASPI), which prepares Latinos for healthcare careers and is expanding its efforts in the Los Angeles area, where Latinos are 48% of the population, according to 2010 Census Data. As the article states, the median age of California's healthcare workforce is 37 to 50 years old, according to the California Hospital Association, which points up the need to seek younger workers and grow the pipeline.

It's clear that the conversation around the need to build a more prominent Hispanic workforce in the healthcare industry is escalating in relevancy. According to a recent article featured on NBC Latino, a study from UCLA indicates that only five percent of licensed doctors in California are Latino in a state that is nearly 40 percent Hispanic - indicating a severe shortage of primary care physicians who have both the language and cultural connections to care for Hispanic patients.

One prominent medical institution in Southern California is well aware of and responding to the changing demographics, the greater need for diversity management and the urgency to recruit, develop and retain Hispanic talent: City of Hope. A leading research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases, City of Hope is actively reaching out to U.S. Hispanics to educate them about career opportunities as well as health issues affecting the broader community, especially those being exacerbated by the tension points that exist between the healthcare industry and Hispanic patients.

City of Hope is located in Duarte, California, 10 miles east of Pasadena and 22 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley. This location offers not only majestic views of the San Gabriel Mountains, but a catchment area that encompasses Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino counties and includes nearly 8 million Hispanics (16% of the total U.S. Hispanic population).

According to Stephanie Neuvirth, Chief Human Resources and Diversity Officer at City of Hope, "Our commitment at City of Hope is to be extremely active in conversations that support the changing demographic in the United States, in particular Hispanics given their abundant growth in our catchment area. We are aware of the increasingly important role ethnicity plays in education, treatment, and cures and the need for more diverse employees - from physicians and researchers, to administrative leaders, dieticians and community outreach workers, and we are making every effort to be proactive with our intentions to welcome diverse populations."

As such, City of Hope is in a unique position to create the ultimate case study and best practices for building a pipeline of Latino professionals and retaining top talent. Encouraging more Hispanics to enter the healthcare industry will begin to alleviate the shortage and allow the industry to move in a direction where research, treatment and prevention efforts begin to match the needs of this expanding community.

Maribel Diaz, Planning and Strategy Specialist at City of Hope, is an example of someone who received such encouragement at a young age. Following in the footsteps of her older sister, she and her twin sister attended the annual National Hispanic Youth Initiate (NHYI) in Washington, D.C. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this program is available to Hispanic youth interested in a career in healthcare, and it exposes them to everything from health sciences and biomedical research to policy development and administration. There, the sisters made contacts who inspired them to pursue healthcare professions and who continued to mentor them along the way. Today, all three enjoy rewarding careers in healthcare, where they are also able to give back to the community and serve as role models for the next generation of Hispanic youth.

From family to physician and from research to cures, Hispanics need to play a more meaningful and purposeful role in the healthcare industry. They need to help the industry become more Hispanic friendly on many levels by acknowledging, among other things, 1) the growing importance of culture and the role it plays in serving patients; 2) the need to be Spanish-language mindful to elevate trust and an overall better experience of care; and 3) the demand for new treatment and cures.

City of Hope has been taking a leadership role in reaching out to Hispanic students and making a commitment to the community. For example, through its Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) Collaborative, City of Hope has forged a partnership with the Duarte Unified School District, where the community is 71% Latino.

Designed to educate and excite 2nd-, 5th- and 8th-graders and high school students about careers in healthcare, SEPA program activities include classroom visits by City of Hope scientists, tours of the City of Hope grounds and laboratories, and hands-on life science workshops. City of Hope sponsors the Regional Occupational Program as well as Eat, Move, Live; a summer health camp for children. Additionally, a 53-year program, the Eugene & Ruth Roberts Summer Academy, sponsors promising undergraduates and advanced high school students for a ten-week immersive summer program to work on leading-edge research in City of Hope's Community Teaching Laboratory, and there are professional development workshops offered to all teachers in the school district.

City of Hope's commitment to education extends to its Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences, which has been enrolling students since 1994. Graduates earn the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences, and are prepared for life sciences and biomedicine careers - spanning academia, medicine, industry and government - as research scientists in chemical, molecular, and cellular biology. Students have gone on to illustrious careers at major universities, research institutions, and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

Currently, City of Hope is making a concerted effort to recruit more Hispanic students into the industry by sponsoring such events as the National Hispanic College Leadership Tour across America. The tour is an opportunity that City of Hope has seized upon to conduct outreach to the next generation of Hispanics who might be interested in, or prime candidates for, a career in the healthcare industry. City of Hope also sponsored an exclusive Hispanic Leadership Program that was hosted in July by Rice University and The Jones Graduate School of Business and delivered by the Center for Hispanic Leadership.

Through these and other efforts, City of Hope is taking the lead and making a real commitment to raise awareness and provide fresh solutions toward the cause of attracting, recruiting and advancing Hispanics in the workplace. Individually and collectively, these efforts are designed to make STEM jobs - those in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics - more appealing to Hispanic students by helping them understand how the academic experience, activities, coursework and career opportunities from a STEM education support the cultural characteristics that enable the natural ways that Hispanics think, act and innovate. Through the college outreach sponsorships, City of Hope is helping students identify and embrace the cultural values that will enable them to be authentic leaders and have successful careers in healthcare, research and related fields.

Lighting the career path for Hispanics in healthcare is a large part of City of Hope's overall goal, which is to engage and serve the community at-large with culturally sensitive health information and better access to services. Toward that goal, City of Hope will be the charter sponsor supporting the first-ever preventative care online educational portal and awareness platform for U.S. Hispanics, Healthy Hispanic Living, launching in November 2013.

According to Robert Stone, President, City of Hope: "Healthy Hispanic Living will provide educational and personalized care solutions. This powerful content rich platform will deliver a narrative that will speak with the Hispanic community to stimulate accountability with Hispanics in a non-threatening and engaging manner on topics related to clinical care, research, prevention and many other areas, all tailored for the Latino community. It will serve as an "anchor" for our Latino outreach as we broaden our efforts to address their specific health needs and the life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and obesity."