Doctor Shortage

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Immigrant Doctors Help Ease California’s Primary Care Doctor Shortage

By Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News

Dr. Jose Chavez Gonzalez examines Graciela Jauregui at Riverside County Regional Medical Center (Jenny Gold/Kaiser Health News).

Dr. Jose Chavez Gonzalez examines Graciela Jauregui at Riverside County Regional Medical Center (Jenny Gold/Kaiser Health News).

It’s a familiar story in California.

When Jose Chavez Gonzalez moved to the United States from El Salvador, he took any job he could get — stocking warehouses, construction, cleaning houses and working in a meat processing plant.

But unlike most of the other immigrants he worked alongside, Chavez, 38, was a doctor with eight years of medical training. He came to the U.S. in the mid-1990’s to be with his family, but like all doctors from other countries, he still had to pass the U.S. medical boards and go through at least three years of residency in order to practice here. The process can be both expensive and time consuming, so during the day he worked various menial jobs. At night he studied for the boards.

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of immigrant doctors from Latin America could be practicing, but are instead working other –- often menial –- jobs. That’s a wasted resource.
“I had to do it. And I wouldn’t complain,” says Chavez. “It was OK to me. I mean, of course medicine is my passion, but since I didn’t have a license here, I couldn’t practice it.”

A quarter of U.S. doctors are foreign-born, mostly from countries like India that focus on training ­­medical students to work in the U.S.  Many other immigrant physicians never become American doctors, particularly those who come from Latin American countries like Chavez.

But a program at the University of California is seeking to change that, while at the same time helping to address the shortage of primary care doctors in the state. The UCLA International Medical Graduate Program offers Latino doctors a stipend along with board preparation classes, mentorship and references to help them find a good residency slot in primary care. In return, the doctors pledge to work in an underserved area of California for two or three years. Continue reading

Mentors Inspire Young Woman To Become Doctor For Low-Income Communities

Editor’s note: There was little in her background to suggest Vanessa Armendariz could become a doctor. But as she was growing up, mentors from similar circumstances made her dream seem possible. As part of our occasional series, “What’s Your Story?“ Armendariz explains why she wants to be a primary care physician for people in low-income communities like her own.

Vanessa Armendariz says her goal is to go to medical school and become a primary care physician so she can help serve her community. (Photo Courtesy of Vanessa Armendariz)

Vanessa Armendariz says her goal is to go to medical school and become a primary care physician so she can help serve her community. (Photo Courtesy of Vanessa Armendariz)

Like any child, I was terrified of going to the doctor. But as a child of a low-income family in Stockton, my reasons were different.

I wasn’t afraid of a shot. Instead, I dreaded the hours-long waits and seeing my parents struggle to afford the visits. I couldn’t stand my family feeling unheard or helpless.

I wanted to change that for families like mine, so I decided to become a doctor.

But in high school, I was told that as a low-income Latina, my chances of getting pregnant were higher than going to college. My mother was pregnant at 16, and no one in my family had attended college, so it was hard to argue those statistics.

“In high school I was told that as a low-income Latina, my chances of getting pregnant were higher than going to college.”
Then, my parents were caught selling drugs to support our family. My mother continued to support my dream, but it seemed impossible. That changed when I found a program that introduced disadvantaged students to medicine through mentoring and visits to our regional health centers.

I interacted with physicians I could relate to. They came from low-income, minority backgrounds and were passionate about giving back. I realized that if they could do it, so could I. I excelled academically Continue reading

New Approach to Medical Residency May Ease Doctor Shortage in Central Valley

By Rebecca Plevin, Valley Public Radio

Dr. Peter Broderick examines a patient's x-ray while family practice medical residents look on. (Rebecca Plevin/KVPR)

Dr. Peter Broderick examines a patient’s x-ray while family practice medical residents look on. (Rebecca Plevin/KVPR)

The Central Valley suffers from an acute shortage of doctors — especially primary care doctors — but a new type of residency program aims to bring relief. These new “teaching health centers” are funded by the Affordable Care Act.

This new approach contrasts with traditional medical residency programs, which are often based at university medical centers in large cities and encourage specialty training.

With the recognition that medical residents often stay where they are trained, the idea behind this new approach is to place these young doctors not in large hospitals but in community health centers where they will focus on primary care.

“The hope is that more of the graduates from these programs will stay in these underserved settings, will work in these community health clinics, and hopefully address some of the shortages that we have with that population,” said Dr. Peter Broderick, the CEO of Modesto’s Valley Consortium of Medical Education.

In 2010 Broderick’s group opened the state’s first “teaching health center” — the Valley Family Medical Residency Program. It has trained 12 doctors a year since then. Continue reading

Are There Enough Medi-Cal Doctors in Kern County? How About Statewide? Who Knows?

People wait in line at Clinica Sierra Vista at the East Bakersfield Community Health Center. Some were waiting before they opened at 7:30am. (Casey Christie / The Californian)

People wait in line at Clinica Sierra Vista at the East Bakersfield Community Health Center. Some were waiting before they opened at 7:30am. (Casey Christie / The Californian)

Once Obamacare is fully implemented in January, hundreds of thousands of Californians will move from the ranks of the uninsured to the insured. That’s the good news. The downside: many California counties already face a shortage of primary care doctors — a shortage that is especially acute in the Central Valley.

How those newly insured — especially those who will be enrolled under Medi-Cal — will access care is an especially pressing question in Kern County, as the CHCF Center for Health Reporting has been exploring under a series, Desperate for Doctors.

“It would be really helpful for policymakers to have an agreed upon set of facts.”

A chief problem is not only the shortage of primary care doctors, but also the question of whether physicians accept Medi-Cal patients. If individuals and families hold Medi-Cal insurance, but can’t find a doctor who will accept it, their new coverage isn’t much help. Continue reading