(SACRAMENTO)

Before Jorge A. García, M.D., walked into his first medical school class, he never imagined that he too would one day be teaching the next generation of physicians. Like many Latino students, García was a trailblazer. The first in his family to receive a high school diploma and bachelor’s degree, medical school was a whole other world.

Prep Médico helps Latino students choose careers in the medical field.
Prep Médico helps Latino students choose careers in the medical field.

“It was hard,” said García, who is a Health Sciences Clinical Professor and the Associate Dean for Diverse and Inclusive Learning Communities at the UC Davis School of Medicine. “It was humbling, but it was worth it.”

García described his journey through medical school as a difficult and challenging time that would test his limits – as it does for all medical students – and even more so for a first generation American, many of whom often lack exposure to health care careers and feel obligated to help with the finances of the home soon after high school graduation.

Today, Latinos only constitute around 6 percent of students enrolled in medical school, while making up nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population – a figure that is increasing. In California, these numbers are even more striking: Latinos make up 39 percent of the state’s population, but less than 5 percent of physicians.

Prep Médico – short for “Preparando Estudiantes Para Ser Médicos,” or “Preparing Students to Be Physicians” – is an initiative dedicated to building the next generation of physicians committed to advancing Latino health. It provides scholarships, mentorship and internship opportunities, volunteer service opportunities, and hands-on clinical experiences for pre-med and medical students. The initiative was launched by UC Davis Health and the Permanente Medical Group.

Dr. Jorge Garcia
“I became a physician to serve those whose health care needs are often overlooked, including members of my Latinx community. I became a medical educator to nurture the next generation of health professionals from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds." - Dr. Jorge García, Health Sciences Clinical Professor at the UC Davis School of Medicine

The goal is to expand diversity in medicine and ultimately increase the number of Latinos who choose to become physicians. Program leaders expect to serve approximately 100 students annually at all levels.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” said García, quoting Marian Wright Edelman who coined the phrase. García, who is a mentor for Prep Médico, expressed his immense passion for the next generation of physicians who need mentorship, guidance and encouragement.

“I became a physician to serve those whose health care needs are often overlooked, including members of my Latinx community. I became a medical educator to nurture the next generation of health professionals from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds,” he said.

Importantly, studies by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Institute of Medicine have indicated that race concordance between patients and physicians can result in improved patient satisfaction and health outcomes, health literacy and patient safety. By expanding the Latino physician workforce, health care disparities in underserved communities can be reduced.

Early on in his clinical rotations, García came across a woman who changed his life forever. As a third-year student on his obstetrics and gynecology rotation, García was serving at a Fresno hospital when a nurse asked if anyone spoke Spanish. García immediately raised his hand. He was nervous but took on the case. When he walked into the exam room and introduced himself as a physician in training who would help the nurse with interpretation, the patient lifted her hands in praise and said in Spanish, “I’ve been praying for someone like you to be a doctor.”

“The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why. That day, I found out why,” said García.

Throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, UC Davis Health celebrates the incredible achievements of Latinos and the revolutionizing impact they have had within our very own institution. Notably, the UC Davis School of Medicine and  Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis are designated as Hispanic-Serving Health Professions Schools - academic institutions that strive to achieve equitable health and well-being for our Hispanic community.