EL PASO — As the need for more Hispanic doctors grows in the U.S., medical organizations have realized that special programs at educational institutions are needed to prepare more Latino pre-med students to enter the profession.
“The minority populations are growing, and we don’t have many minority doctors,” says Mary C.D. Wells, director of the University of Texas at El Paso Medical Professions Institute. “In the last couple of decades, the American Medical Association, the American Association of American Colleges, all of these groups that look over medical training in this country have seen that.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of accepted Latino medical school applicants is low because of socioeconomic issues including low levels of education, unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, discrimination and poor or dangerous neighborhood settings that influence career choices.
The Medical Professions Institute (MPI) is a program that was established in 2002 to provide support for students aspiring to become professionals in the medical field and ultimately prepare for medical school.
“You have mentors, you have counselors, you have people you can go to if you have any questions while you’re going through the process and before you get into the process to make sure that this is what you want,” says UTEP junior, Yaya Perez.
Perez is pursuing a biomedical sciences degree and has recently completed a summer internship in Guadalajara in hopes of receiving her medical license both in the U.S. and Mexico.
“I found out about that through the Medical Professionals Institute,” says Perez.
The MPI partnered with the UTEP Career Center to invite a public speaker to campus along with representatives from various medical schools.
“I ended up talking to one of the representatives. I kept in contact with them, and they offered me this internship,” says Perez.
MPI offers programs like this and more to students who want to take advantage of it. Another program includes an annual summer bus trip to visit all medical schools in the surrounding region.
“We offer a lot of different types of activities and experiences that students can be involved in, in preparing for their future. And it just depends on if they want to be involved or not,” says Wells.
Some Hispanic pre-med students need help improving their communication skills, which is one of the great challenges in getting into medical school.
“Every year it seems like I’ve seen less and less experience with English in the freshmen coming into the university and that is a big problem,” says Wells.
The medical college admission test, MCAT, is in a high level of English, and those students who are not as skilled in English take twice as long to answer a question than someone whose first language is English.
“But the good news is that the American Association of Medical Colleges is very aware of this,” says Wells.
The new MCAT that will start in April will allow students more time to read passages and questions and consider their answers. Pre-med students whose first language is not English will have a more time to analyze and think problems through than they did with the previous test.
Some Hispanic pre-med students have even joined the UTEP Forensics team and participated in speech tournaments nationwide to improve their communication skills and demonstrate they are strong candidates for medical school.
“I’ve been on the team about three years,” says UTEP junior, Manuel Duran. “We want to take the right steps necessary to not only increase the number of Latino doctors, but to also have the necessary skills to communicate with patients.”
Perez also takes part in the UTEP Forensics team to improve her English speaking skills since Spanish is her first language and she hopes to become a bilingual doctor.
“It really does make a different for UTEP students if they can become engaged in the many things we offer them because the the preparation is part of having a successful application. And it’s hard to do by yourself,” says Wells.