Why academic medicine needs more Latino professors

On Wednesday, March 2, the Latino Medical Student Association held a talk titled “Why Academia Needs LHS+ Identified Faculty and Leaders” as part of their 2022 LMSA National Conference. LHS+ stands for Latina/o /x/e, Hispanic and Spanish. The plus refers to the many other terms used to refer to one’s identity in the community.

The talk discussed the distribution of the number of LHS+ individuals in medical schools and how that number has changed since LMSA was established in 1972. This talk was part of the conference’s LIDEReS program, a seminar on career advancement.

LMSA was founded at Harvard University by then-students Dr. Emilio Carillo and Dr. Jaime Rivera. They created the first chapter of what would become LMSA to attract more Latinos and stay in medical school. According to the LMSA Northeast website, the two “hoped that by changing the demographics of the medical workforce, they would also improve the poor health profile of the Latino community.”

The organization quickly spread across the country with the Chicano/Latino Medical Students Association beginning in 1982 and the Latino Midwest Medical Student Association beginning in 1990.

Part of the lecture was presented by Dr. Norma Poll-Hunter, who explained the data on the number of medical school professors who are LHS+. Dr. Poll-Hunter is Senior Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

In terms of all health professions, Latinos make up 6.3% of all physicians, with physician assistants and dieticians making up the majority of them.

Of these doctors, 50% were born outside the United States. Most of those born in the United States are either Mexican-American, Cuban-American or Puerto Rican.

Currently, only 3% of faculty at US medical colleges overall are LHS+. This number drops to 1% when looking at LHS+ women. The majority of faculty at LHS+ are instructors or assistant professors. The higher you go in the chain, the lower the percentage of LHS+ teachers present. 4.2% of LHS+ professors are instructors, compared to 2.6% of professors. Of this number, 2.6% only 0.9% are LHS+ women.

The numbers are also low when looking at specific departments in medical schools. Those like anatomy and dentistry have zero or one LHS+ teacher. However, LHS+ men don’t fare much better. The same departments have only seven and zero professors, respectively.

After Dr. Poll-Hunter finished his presentation, audience members were able to share their experiences and questions. A common theme among these comments and questions was that there is not enough room to help people find a program that will help them progress at all levels. Suggestions for a database of opportunities were made. People cited not finding out about the opportunities until the last minute as a reason why this would be helpful.

Another aspect of career/academic advancement assistance that was raised was mentoring. The MiMentor! was mentioned for pre-med students. One of the speakers also encouraged attendees to sign him up for a letter of recommendation.

The conference ended with a discussion on racism.

Dr. Poll-Hunter shared a testimonial from a Latino faculty member who said, “Given the low number of Latino/Latina faculty in academia, I assumed my value would extend beyond that. a diversity statistic. Although I needed it badly, I struggled for a long time to feel a sense of belonging or desire. This sense of belonging is complicated. Some days I want nothing to do with academia. And other days, I enjoy my time here.

She continued, “A lot of my emotional outpouring is about the students. I have some students who see me, a South Bronx Boricua, as an example of the possibilities of what they can become. Other students, I have to convince. I have to spend the first weeks of class doing intelligence. To appease their apprehension of having before them a Latin faculty of color. It’s like an endless series of job interviews to demonstrate that I am qualified to teach them.

After Dr. Poll-Hunter, Dr. Cristina Fernández was invited to read her own testimony published in the Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges. He said: “I am Panamanian, Afro-Latina and I have dark skin. Spanish-speaking patients often say, “I didn’t know you were Hispanic,” when I start speaking Spanish with them during medical visits. I’m frustrated that people think all Hispanics look a certain way. Still, I can say that my Hispanic patients appreciate that I can speak to them in Spanish, and that I identify with them and understand their care questions and concerns because of the similarities in our cultural origins.”