“Filling the gap”
Story and photos by: Ricky J. Carrasco
According to numbers provided by Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture (CESLAC), there is currently only one Latino dentist for every 10000 possible Latino patients. In some years in the past decade, no Latino students have graduated as dentists from California universities, which is an alarming number since he says that by 2030, Latinos (from various national backgrounds) will make up half the population in California. According to Dr. Serrata from EPCC, half of one percent of the Latino population is graduating with medical, dental or law degrees.
Dr. Bautista was in town to speak with Dr. William Serrata, President of the El Paso Community College system, exploring the possibility about starting a future partnership with EPCC and other area schools, like UTEP and the Paul L. Foster Texas Tech School of Medicine, in creating a larger brain-trust on Latino Health issues. He also promoted beginning a program where more Latinos can find their way into the medical profession.
Through CESLAC, Dr. Bautista also heads up MEDPEP, the Medical Preparation and Education Pipeline program where Latinos in California’s community colleges are assisted and directed toward entering the medical field through UCLA’s medical schools. The 10 year old program gets around 50-70 enrolled students every year from southern California. The students have to attend seminars and programs on the UCLA campus. Bautista estimates 140 students so far have gone through the program, through medical school and are currently practicing professional doctors.
According to Dr. Carlos Yates, Math professor at El Paso Community College, who facilitated the meeting between Dr. Bautista and EPCC and several other educational entities in El Paso, “There is a vital need to have physicians and dentists that understand the culture of our people, the way to talk to them, their extended families, their diets and behaviors that all have a deep impact on the health of a patient.”
Bautista says Latino students may not be attracted to the medical field since they have so few role models. “If you have a physician in the family, then idea of medical school is not as intimidating. Often, we find that many of our students may not even have a family physician, much less a Latino one. The idea of not only graduating with a bachelor’s, much less a doctorate, seems so far away.” Bautista’s program gets students who may come from the inner city or from rural areas (where their parents may be farmworkers), and introduces them not only to Latino physicians and lecturers, but also medical students, thereby creating a support system with them and their own peers, further de-mystifying the notion of medical school.
Dr. Serrata stated that he was enthusiastic to begin the partnership in whatever form necessary and as practical to the El Paso area. He explained how the idea of directing, then mentoring, students towards a medical field is even more feasible in El Paso, since EPCC has a track record of educating and mentoring students from the high school level, having various campuses and programs where high school age students can achieve college credit, even associate degrees before their high school diplomas. “What we want to promote is that dreams can become reality for this population. In most medical schools, few of the students are from the area. We have the unique opportunity here because we now have a medical school in town because we have a need, so what are we going to do to build that pipeline to get these students into that school? Ultimately, we know that El Pasoans wish to remain in this area, if the jobs are here. We can produce doctors here that know our demographics, our people and our culture. We don’t have many role models for our students. We have trailblazers like Dr. Bautista, but then there is a big gap, and we need to be able to fill that gap to provide opportunities for these students.”
Dr. Bautista was hopeful about the meeting and the future of such a program. He explained that he had met with UTEP and Paul Foster/Texas Tech personnel. In Texas, 70% of students, 80% of minorities, enter higher education via a community college, so the seeds of a program are landing in very fertile ground here in El Paso. “Whenever I introduce the idea of MEDPEP to a campus, it doesn’t become a clone of what we’re doing in UCLA. It depends on what people want to do here. That community has to own it. I’m just glad that we were able to get the schools together, even to just consider in joining efforts to create a sustained intellectual concentration on researching Latino Health. And if, through that effort, we get the medical students to come down to the colleges, and then to the high schools, and sharing information all around, then I think that’s the keys to kingdom.”
Finally, Dr. Bautista reiterated that he would not be the architect for such a program at EPCC. “I think the people are here to do it [implement such a program]. I can be a coach, I can share experiences, I can cheerlead, but that’ll have to be created here. I think the people are here to do it. I get a sense of the will. I certainly get a sense of the need.”