California is home to more than15 million Latinos, yet they significantly lack representation in health care.
According to the California Health Care Foundation, just 6 percent of the state’s doctors identify as Latino. At the national level, the Association of American Medical Colleges found that women represent 36 percent of the total U.S. physicians, but only 2.4 percent identify as Hispanic or Latina.
The numbers were clear to Veronica Palomino, MD, founder and president of the nonprofit organization Latinas In Medicine. With the goal of developing a workforce that looks like the population it serves in mind, Dr. Palomino cultivated a community that inspires, guides, and empowers Latinas who choose careers in medicine.
“We try to go beyond a sense of community and create a sense of family,” Dr. Palomino said. “Perhaps in your previous relationships with doctors, they seem to be a little high on a pedestal and not really accessible or relatable. That is not us.”
The nonprofit organization was established in August 2016 and accepted its first cohort in 2018. After a long hiatus driven by the coronavirus pandemic, Latinas in Medicine accepted more than a dozen medical students into its new cohort who will undergo individualized mentorship, academic support, and career and leadership development.
The City of San Diego recognized the original cohort with a certificate signed by council member Vivian Moreno. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Nora Vargas issued a certificate to the nonprofit in honor of their dedication and passion for increasing the number of Latinas in Medicine and supporting those at the heart of health care.
“Mentorship is the backbone of this program. Of all the program activities, I think it is the most impactful. As one of our scholars goes through the program and inch closer to applying to their doctoral programs, the mentorship intensifies,” Dr. Palomino said.
Dr. Palomino credits the program’s intense mentorship as part of the first cohort’s success in being admitted into their desired doctoral programs.
Latinas in Medicine and its entirely volunteer eight-member board of directors inspires and nurtures elementary, high school, and college-aged Latinas interested in entering the medical field. Four students hailing from San Ysidro High School and South West High School joined the program as a transition to a university.
This year will also be the second year the nonprofit will work with San Ysidro High School, but Dr. Palomino hopes to expand the program.
“I’m so happy to be in this community with all of you. It’s hard to believe that we began all of this in 2016. It has been an amazing journey,” Board Chairperson Ramón Hernadez DrPH, MPH said. “We will continue building future diversity in our workforce, particularly our Latino workforce.”
In addressing the incoming and outgoing scholars, Hernandez recognized the critical demand for health care physicians that represent the communities they serve.
“You know the communities we live in and why we need you so critically. It’s a long road, it’s a hard road, but being a part of Latinas in medicine you’re going to have some amazing board members to support you,” Hernadez said.
Members of the community who would like to support the program may participate through “time, talent, treasure,” according to Dr. Palomino.
“If you are in the medical field, and you have a doctoral-level degree, we would love for you to mentor and host our students. If you’re a Latina leader, we would love for you to inspire our young women,” Dr. Palomino said.
Dr. Palomino said that the program itself is relatively inexpensive, but the vision for Latinas in Medicine is to have an intensive residential retreat with intensive programming.