Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Lighting a Fire: Conference Hopes to Inspire a New Generation of Latino Health Providers

Posted By on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 10:08 AM

When it comes to health care, some Latinos say 2014 might just as well be 1914. Despite having become the largest minority population in the United States, Latinos remain vastly underrepresented in health care professions.

But Idaho’s chapter of the Future Hispanic Leaders Association (FHLA) hopes to someday soon change all of that, beginning with the Saturday, Feb. 15, Hispanic Healthcare Conference, to be held in the Jordan Ballroom at the Boise State University Student Union.

“Our target audience is high-school-aged Latino students,” said Rick Godina, one of the founding members of Idaho’s FHLA. “We hope to inspire them to pursue careers in the health professions by providing real-life examples of Latinos who have overcome tremendous obstacles in order to achieve their goals.”

With just 8.5 percent of Idaho’s Latino population over the age of 25 earning a bachelor’s degree or higher, the significance of sparking that fire in the next generation becomes apparent.

No fewer than 17 guest speakers are planned for the event, representing fields such as nursing, pediatrics, radiology, oncology and speech pathology. All the speakers share a common Latino heritage, and each one currently practices within the state of Idaho. By chronicling their own educational and career triumphs and struggles, the hope is that students will see themselves in the speaker’s stories—and be inspired.

“One of our presenters will be a Harvard-trained cardiologist, which is a real opportunity for kids to see we have a lot of talent in Idaho, and then say, hey, maybe I can do that, too,” said Godina.

Although providing role models for young Latino students is a critical first step, serious barriers to pursuing health care careers still remain.

“Right now, we don’t have enough physicians in the state of Idaho,” said Ofelia Morales of the Idaho Department of Labor. “As our population is aging, those professionals who have been working in the field are getting ready to retire, and we’re just not seeing as much interest in young individuals to join the industry.”

According to Morales, the interest in nursing programs remains relatively high, however, Idaho lacks an adequate number of in-state educators and clinical sites to meet the growing demand. Add to that the financial burden of student loans, and the result is a dearth of Latino students pursuing four-year degrees, overall.

For Jose Cordova, student president of Idaho’s FHLA chapter and a senior at Caldwell High School, the conference is an opportunity to inspire fellow classmates.

“This is the first time we’ve ever done something like this and I’m excited to see how the students react,” said Cordova.

Inspiring more Latino students to pursue a path toward higher education, especially in those fields related to health care, is exactly what the Hispanic Health Conference hopes to accomplish.

Who better to lead the way than the organizations young president?

“After graduation, I plan to attend the University of Nevada-Reno and major in biology,” said Cordova. “And after that, I plan to pursue a doctoral degree in physical therapy.”

Those interested in attending can find more information and register at fhla.org/news.html.

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