The underrepresentation of minorities among health care providers and researchers is often considered one of the contributing factors to health disparities in these populations. Recent demographic shifts and the higher proportion of minorities anticipated among the newly insured under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act make the need for a more diverse and culturally competent health care workforce an urgent national priority.
The authors describe current and future strategies that have been developed at the College of Health Sciences and Human Services at the University of Texas–Pan American (an institution with 89% Hispanic students in 2012) to prepare a culturally competent and ethnically diverse health care workforce that can meet the needs of a diverse population, especially in the college’s own community. The college graduates approximately 650 students annually for careers in nursing, physician assistant studies, occupational therapy, pharmacy, rehabilitation services, clinical laboratory sciences, dietetics, and social work. The college’s approach centers on enriching student education with research, service, and community-based experiences within a social-determinants-of-health framework. The approach is promoted through an interdisciplinary health disparities research center, multiple venues for community-based service learning, and an innovative approach to improve cultural and linguistic competence. Although the different components of the college’s approach are at different developmental stages and will benefit from more formal evaluations, the college’s overall vision has several strengths that promise to serve as a model for future academic health initiatives.