Growing need for Hispanic doctors in Florida, nationally

It is something many take for granted: being able to communicate with your doctor in the same language.

For some people, that is a challenge.

In fact, nationally, the Journal of the American Medical Association says only 6% of doctors identify as Hispanic.

Locally, at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, the admissions office says 8.5% of the approximately 480 students are Hispanic.

The lack of representation could mean the difference between life and death, says Dr. William Felix. He works in sports medicine but also worked inside Central Florida emergency departments during the pandemic.

"If that barrier is there because there’s no one who can translate or there’s no one to communicate in that verbiage, in our language, then that can be catastrophic for the patient because we’re delaying care," he said.

It’s part of the reason why second-year medical student Kailee Hernandez got into medicine.

RELATED: 'Purposeful Leadership' program equips members with career, life skills

"My grandparents don’t speak English, seeing them entrapped in the healthcare system growing up, I knew there was a need for that, needing doctors who spoke Spanish," she said.

Now, Hernandez is the president of the Latin Medical Association at the school. The group is working on a Spanish medical curriculum.

"To combat some of the problems people have, so maybe a doctor doesn’t speak Spanish perfectly, but we want them to communicate with their patients, and do a physical exam in Spanish," Hernandez said.

Dr. Tracy Macintosh is the associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She says the goal is to get more students of diverse backgrounds by connecting with them way before they apply to med school.

RELATED: Hispanic sheriff looks to bridge cultures

"We are extending ourselves to our high schools, focusing on our public high schools in Osceola, Orange, and Seminole counties to make sure we are recruiting, reaching out, inspiring kids from the high school level to understand you too have a place in medicine," Dr. Macintosh said.

Applying to school and getting in is monumental. Students have to battle not just self-doubt but even doubts from others.

"I had people tell me, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine, you’re a Latino. You’re a shoo-in, you’ve got good grades, you’re an ethnic minority,’ Just seemed like they were making less of what I am because of my Latin heritage," said second-year medical student Thomas Knapp.

Watch FOX 35 Orlando for the latest Central Florida news.