According to the latest figures from the American Medical Association, less than 3 percent of physicians in the United States are Hispanic. Only 3.4 percent of those are Latinas. With 12 percent of the population now identifying themselves as Hispanic, it’s clear that a need exists to promote careers in the health care fields to Hispanics, especially Latinas.

Dr. Elena Ríos is president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association. “Our organization was started because we realized there was a void in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “We’re the first century of doctors to come from the medical schools.” She said that “part of our goal was to change medical education policies.”

In the 1960s, said Ríos, the low numbers of Hispanics in the medical professions was “already recognized by the United States.” However, at that time, there was no minority health office. Ríos attended college beginning in 1973 and said, “by that time, the minority medical schools were started.” She mentioned financial assistance, in particular the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as being a boost to Hispanics in general.

Ríos advocates a strong mentoring network as well, advising Hispanics, especially Latinas, once they have entered the medical profession, to “go back and help your brothers and sisters do the same thing. There has to be a system set up.” She notes that in many secondary schools, clubs have been formed by Hispanic students who wish to go into health care. “It’s the students helping each other, not the counselors.” Mentoring, to Ríos, is key. “It’s getting them to understand their responsibilities,” she said. And for up-and-coming medical students, it’s about “learning from the group ahead of them.”

Read the full article about Latinas in medicine by Cheryl A. Rice at Hispanic Outlook on Education Magazine.