NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 29, 2007

A chronic shortage of U.S. doctors who speak Spanish costs millions of dollars annually in unnecessary tests, emergency-room visits and inaccurate or delayed diagnoses, says the Wall Street Journal.


  • Hispanics constitute 14 percent of the nation's 300 million people; but only 5 percent of all physicians practicing in the United States are Hispanic.
  • In California, where 33 percent of the population is Hispanic, only 4 percent of physicians are Latino.
  • Further, the Pew Hispanic Center reported recently that fewer than 1 in 4 Latino immigrants reports being able to speak English very well.


  • In 2000, 11.9 million U.S. residents were members of a "linguistically isolated" household, in which no person age 14 or over speaks English at least very well, compared with 7.7 million in 1990, according to the Census Bureau.
  • In that decade, there was a 53 percent surge in the number of U.S. residents whose English proficiency is limited.

Confronted with this reality, doctors in California designed a 14-month program that qualifies graduates from Latin American countries to enter family-medicine residencies at teaching hospitals in California:

  • Before starting the program, many of the participants had been working in the U.S. as X-ray technicians, nursing assistants or as health-care volunteers.
  • The graduates receive prep courses for U.S. medical licensing exams, observership training at a UCLA hospital and support in their application for a residency program.
  • On completing their residency, participants commit to spending at least three years in a "medically underserved area," in a large city or rural community.

Currently, 14 Latin American medical graduates are enrolled in different stages of the UCLA program, at the cost of about $48,000 apiece.  The program, funded entirely by private foundations, is completing its first full year in February.  Founders Drs. Patrick Dowling and Michelle Bholat are currently seeking funds to expand enrollment nationwide.

Source: Miriam Jordan, "Pilot Program Aims to Train," Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2007.

For text: 


Browse more articles on Health Issues