Studies show that providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services is essential to improving patient health. The ability to understand what a patient is saying in their native language establishes trust in the relationship between patient and doctor, which can lead to better health outcomes.
Too often, however, migrant workers in California do NOT receive health care from professionals who speak their language and understand their culture.
Legislation introduced by the late Assemblymember Marco Firebaugh of Los Angeles addressed this problem by establishing the Mexico Certified Physician and Dentist Pilot Program. This program allows up to 30 physicians certified in Mexico and specializing in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics and obstetrics-gynecology to practice in California for a maximum term of three years.
The California Business, Consumer Services and Housing (BCSH) Agency, through the California Medical Board, Department of Consumer Affairs, partnered with the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the University of California Davis to implement this private program. In Salinas, Tulare, Hollister and the Los Angeles area, four community medical centers are participating in the program, with 18 doctors already certified and a dozen more on the way.
On a sunny afternoon recently, we met in Salinas with members of the community to hear their experiences of the initial successes of the program in its first year. At tables decorated with fresh flowers, more than 50 people gathered at a community roundtable hosted by the Valle Health Clinic in Salinas, which has been providing medical services to farming families in Monterey County since the 1980s. .
Community members and several physicians currently participating in the first binational pilot program shared how Mexican-trained and certified physicians practicing in underserved areas of California are reducing health care disparities.
From community leaders to clinic staff, everyone had a story to tell about the tremendous impact these doctors are having during the first year of the pilot program to improve health outcomes for migrant workers and their families.
An example that stands out
A doctor at the clinic told us about a patient who claimed that? did the dead man rise? While a non-native speaker would be puzzled by this expression if he took it literally, the Mexican doctor immediately understood this common idiomatic phrase referring to sleep paralysis.
Everyone we spoke to told us that this kind of linguistic and cultural understanding makes it much more likely that patients with conditions like diabetes and hypertension will feel more comfortable seeking care and asking open questions.
They are also more willing to talk about their stress and mental health issues, "ranging from housing insecurity to anxiety about family to being undocumented." In other words, aspects that would be omitted out of fear, if a translator were used, are communicated shamelessly and confidently to Mexican medical professionals.
The program also does the doctors themselves good. They told us that, although they are far from their families and their country, this makes them feel useful and, logically, they feel proud of their work, in which they often see more than 30 patients a day in some clinics.
We know that more doctors and resources are needed to provide health care to underserved communities.
Governor Newsom and the Legislature expanded Medi-Cal coverage in the 2022-23 Budget to an estimated 700,000 undocumented Californians, making it eligible for income-eligible individuals ages 26-49. this program.
The budget also includes $1.7 billion over three years in health care workforce investments, a portion of which will be dedicated to increasing linguistic and cultural capabilities by encouraging the recruitment, training and hiring of a healthcare workforce. ethnically and culturally inclusive health and human services, which would improve outcomes in terms of diversity, wages, and health equity.
All of this will help greatly, especially when accompanied by linguistically and culturally competent health professionals like the doctors and clinic staff we met in Salinas.
It is too early to measure the success of Mexico's Certified Physician and Dentist Pilot Program. The UC Davis Center for Health Care Disparities Reduction will evaluate the impact and future of the pilot program over the next two years.
But the initial results look promising. It was time to recognize the need for more culturally responsive health care for California's underserved populations.