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Report Highlights Institutions That Educate Latinos in Health Care Fields

A select group of colleges and universities were hailed in a new report Wednesday for being the top producers of Latino graduates in the health care field.

Leaders from government, higher education and the private sector said the matter concerns more than just building a diverse workforce, but rather making sure that patients from diverse backgrounds – in this case, Latinos — get the best health care possible.

“We believe that better communication with health care professionals allows the community to get better information to be able to make better decisions, and that leads to better results,” said Russell Bennett, vice president of Latino Health Solutions with United Healthcare.

“When populations are of a different culture or speak a different language, we feel that we must help provide that communication in the right language and right cultural context,” Bennett said.

Bennett made his remarks during a webinar Wednesday for the release of a new report from Excelencia in Education titled “Finding Your Workforce: The Top 25 Institutions Graduating Latinos in Health Care Professions and Related Programs by Academic Level.”

While the report does not deal with issues of quality, it identifies colleges and universities that stand out for the sheer number of certificates and degrees they award to Latino students in the health field.

“These institutions deserve serious consideration from students planning health care careers,” said Bennett, whose organization provides about 200 scholarships a year.

“They also deserve support from employers seeking diverse and especially Latino health care professionals,” Bennett said.

Among other things, the report found that the top institutions that awarded certificates or degrees to Latinos in health professions and related programs graduated 10 percent, or 56,000, of Latinos that earned a degree in those fields in 2009-2010.

It also found that Latinos tend to be concentrated in lower paying jobs in health care. For instance, Latinos represented 14 percent of those employed in support occupations – such as home health aides or nursing aides – but just 7 percent of practitioner and technical occupations.

The report also found that most Latinos that get degrees in the health fields tend to do so at the certificate and associate degree levels. Specifically, in 2009-2010, the report found, 70 percent of the all degrees awarded to Latinos in health professions and related programs were certificates or associate degrees.

“In general, these students will be most eligible to enter healthcare support occupations,” the report found.

In some ways, some findings of the report were unsurprising. For instance, at the undergraduate level, the top 25 institutions that conferred certificates or degrees to Latinos in health professions or related programs in 2009-2010 were located in regions with sizable Latino populations, namely, one of six states — Texas, Florida, California, Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico—and Puerto Rico.

The majority of those institutions were in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

Deborah A. Santiago, Vice President for Policy and Research at Excelencia in Education and author of the report, said the institutions are top producers of Latino graduates, not just because they are situated in areas with large Latino populations.

“I wish it were just as simple as the institutions where there are large Latino populations,” Santiago said. “I do think location speaks for some of it, but not all of it.”

Institutional practices come into play, Santiago’s report suggests. Specifically, it singles out five programs that have an intentional focus on graduating Latino students.

They are: the Medical Spanish for Heritage Learners at the University of Texas, Pan American, Texas; the Clinical Psychology Program, Ph.D. at Carlos Albizu University, San Juan Campus, Puerto Rico; the Foreign-Educated Physician-To-BSN Program (FEP-BSN) at Florida International University, Florida; the Center for Behavioral and Community Health Studies (BACH) at San Diego State University, California; and the Medical Professions Institute (MPI) at the University of Texas, El Paso, Texas.

Wide variation also exists by sector, depending on academic level.

For instance, the vast majority of the top 25 institutions that awarded certificates and associate degrees in the health fields to Latinos in 2009-2010 were for-profit institutions.

However, at the bachelor’s degree level and higher, the majority of the top 25 institutions that awarded degrees in the health fields were public colleges or universities, the report found.

Mayra Alvarez, Director of Public Health Policy in the Office of Health Reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, noted that many of the schools listed in the report benefit from federal programs designed to boost minority participation.

Specifically, she said, 45 percent of the schools are grantees within HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration, and 41 percent receive support from the Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students Program.

Alvarez noted that five of the schools – Harvard, UCLA, UCSD, UMDNJ and the University of Tennessee – are Centers of Excellence, which receive HRSA funding to help minority students perform better academically and to support minority faculty development.

The funding is also meant to facilitate research on health issues particularly affecting underrepresented minority groups, and to increase the supply and quality of underrepresented minority individuals in the health professions workforce.

The fact that the schools that made the list are beneficiaries of these federal initiatives demonstrates that the federal investments are working, Alvarez said.

The report released Wednesday by Excelencia is one in a series the organization plans to release this year that identify institutions that are top producers of Latino graduates in given fields. Other reports will examine top producers of Latino graduates in STEM, business, education and liberal arts.

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