First Posted: Aug 20, 2013 12:46 PM EDT

(Photo : UCLA)

The University of California has created a program to increase the number of Latin American physicians in medically underserved areas and improve care for patients, MedCity News reported. Ten graduates of the program completed or are doing their residency at Riverside County Regional.

The program pays for coursework, test-preparation classes and living expenses, while residents study. According to MedCity News, there are over 2,000 foreign-trained Latin American doctors living in Southern California who are currently not practicing medicine.

The International Medical Graduate program was founded in 2007 by Dr. Patrick Dowling, chairman of UCLA's Department of Family Medicine and Dr. Michelle Bholat, the vice chair, to "address the huge gap between Spanish-speaking immigrants and Latino doctors," according to Latina.com.

Dr. Marco Uribe graduated from the UCLA program in May and recently started his residency at Riverside County Regional. He said that having spent most of his life in Mexico, he's learned that Latino patients are more stoic, MedCity News reported. "The Hispanic patients, -- they could be dying of pain and they'd say, 'No it doesn't hurt very much. They're very quiet. That's where we have an opening as doctors," said Dr. Uribe.

Uribe told MedCity News he can often tell when his patients are not revealing problems, so he tries to gently coax information out of them. Uribe also knows how to recognize when patients are using traditional herbal remedies, that can possibly damage the kidneys or other organs.

"You know your culture. You know your customs, the things you're used to. You know how a patient will respond to your advice," the graduate from the UCLA program said.

The program, which not only aims to having more Spanish speakers but also to creating a cultural connection for Hispanic patients, has, unfortunately, more applicants that it can accept, MedCity News reported.

"Most who enter the program don't graduate because they can't pass the rigorous first exam, due in part to less laboratory-science coursework in Latin American medical schools," said Dr. Dowling. Two other exams, plus clinical observation, are also part of the requirements in order for these Latin American trained doctors to receive U.S. licenses, Latina.com reported. But the program will continue to help more Latino doctors and serve more Latinos in the U.S.

Like many others, Dr. José Chávez, who arrived in Southern California with a medical degree from El Salvador, couldn't afford his U.S. medical license. For some time, he supported himself by installing flooring, cleaning houses and working at a meatpacking plant.

Now he is a resident physician at Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley thanks to the privately funded UCLA program, which saved him and other students ten thousands of dollars, MedCity News reported.

"I come from a low-income family," said Chávez. "I'm the first professional in my family. It was really, really hard to become a doctor. I will never forget where I come from. I want to work with an underserved population that is struggling with language barriers and cultural barriers."

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