Living as an undocumented immigrant, deportation is a daunting political consequence of my reality, but it pales in comparison to not having access to health insurance and health care.
By the time I was 10 years old, I was forced to come to terms with my immigration status under a dysfunctional health care system. Through this realization, I grew motivated to become a physician that delivers culturally appropriate and effective care to underserved and immigrant families like my own.
I remember vividly the moment I decided to become a physician. It wasn’t because I had an early fascination with the human body or sciences — it was because of my mother’s near death experience. We rushed to an emergency room at a local, public hospital willing to provide medical care to uninsured patients. But due to the high volume of patients, my mother withstood hours of pain before receiving care.
I felt helpless and scared at the thought of losing my mom. My feelings were exacerbated by the lack of Spanish speaking physicians in the hospital. In the middle of all this chaos, I was forced to act as the cultural and linguistic liaison between the physicians and my mother.
My family’s experiences are not singular. Undocumented Latinos continue to be alienated in the medical system, which aggravates the disproportionate rise of chronic diseases among this population. Unfortunately, the medical profession has fallen behind in addressing these health disparities.
Using census data, a study published by Sánchez and colleagues in the Journal of Academic Medicine examines the Latino physician workforce between 1980 and 2010. While the Latino population increased in the United States from 15 million to more than 51 million in the last 30 years, this growth has not been proportionately represented in the physician workforce. Between 1980 and 2010, the number of Latino physicians for every 100,000 Latinos in the U.S. dropped from 135 to 105. The number of non-Hispanic, white physicians, on the other hand, increased from 211 to 315 in the same period.
Granting medical school admission to undocumented students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals like myself has the potential to alleviate the declining Latino physician workforce. In this spirit, the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine became the first medical school in the nation to publicly accept undocumented students. They recognize that undocumented students often come from bicultural and bilingual backgrounds that can meet the diverse needs of underserved populations. Additionally, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, prestigious universities, such as Harvard, Stanford and Yale, now consider undocumented applicants for admission. Still, many medical institutions have not embraced progressive admission policies for undocumented applicants.
As a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, I have been privileged to receive a world class education. However, when I apply to medical school, I will not be considered for admission at my school’s medical program, the Perelman School of Medicine.
In 2012, the Medical School closed the Office of Diversity and Community Outreach, led by two long-serving administrators that were subsequently terminated. Students were outraged. The decision was made without transparency or student involvement, the main reason the office was created in the first place. As an institution that accredits itself for creating a diverse medical workforce, this recent action calls into question whether the institution continues to embody these values.
As the nation’s first medical school and as one of the first in the nation to open a minority office, the Medical School has created a trailblazing legacy of influential decision making. Unfortunately, its current policies concerning undocumented DACA and minority students do not meet expectations. The number of medical institutions of similar caliber and endowment that admit and finance undocumented DACA students will continue to rise. The Medical School has the opportunity to enact policy that will, once again, build much needed diversity in the medical profession that will readily address the growing health disparities among underserved communities.
EMMANUEL CORDOVA is a College senior studying health & societies and Hispanic studies. His email address is email@example.com. He is a member of Penn for Immigration Rights and PreHealth Dreamers, a national community of undocumented pre-health students.Comments powered by Disqus
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