Central Valley's Doctor Shortages

Published on
November 15, 2011

It's no surprise that the Central Valley is a medically underserved community, where recruiting doctors is a tough task. Many of the doctors working here have attended medical school overseas.

In fact, if you crunch the numbers, Kern County comes in fourth among California's 58 counties for having the most foreign-trained doctors. A whopping 57 percent, or 634 out of 1,110 doctors in Kern County did not go to medical school in the United States. That's compared to Sonoma or Marin Counties, both of which have a similar number of total doctors, but just 11-to-12 percent foreign medical graduates. Nationwide, about a quarter of doctors studied at non-U.S. medical schools.

As the faces of America's patients and doctors shift, medical journals have debated the role of culture and ethnicity on patient care.The University of Massachusetts Medical School published a report that concluded: "Minority patients are more likely to choose minority physicians, to be more satisfied by language-concordant relationships, and to feel more connected and involved in decision making with racially concordant physicians."

In general, research discusses a lot about minority patient-majority physician relationships, but not as much about majority patient-minority physician relationships. Census data from 2010 shows that Kern County is about 38 percent white, and 49 percent Latino.Yet just 55 of the 1110 doctors reported having a Latino cultural background to the medical board.

Much has been written about white doctors' need to respond more sensitively to minority patients. But what happens when a doctor of Indian descent sees a Latino farm worker? What happens when English is a second language for both the patient and the doctor?I'd like to explore these differences, culture clashes and the effects on how healthcare is administered. I'll also be taking a broader look at Kern County's struggles to attract doctors and the role these foreign-trained doctors have in filling this care gap.