DALLAS, April 17, 2024 — Language barriers, longstanding structural racism barriers, underrepresentation within the ranks of health care professionals and higher than average rates of poor health risk factors are among the alarming trends that continue to impede quality health care outcomes for Hispanic Latino people living in the United States. The American Heart Association, celebrating 100 years of lifesaving service as the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health for all, is making strides in tackling these health challenges through a series of key initiatives aimed at reducing health disparities.

Research shows Hispanic Latino people have disproportionately higher rates of certain risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Yet, studies have suggested that of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, Hispanic Latino people are least likely to seek medical care for an illness,” said Carlos Rodriguez, M.D., M.P.H., FAHA, American Heart Association volunteer and the current chair and a founding member of the Association’s National Hispanic Latino Cardiovascular Collaborative (NHLCC). “This may stem from the severe shortage of Hispanic Latino health care professionals across the U.S. If you are sick and need health care, you want to talk to someone you trust, who can communicate easily with you and who understands your culture. That is just not an experience many Hispanic Latino people have available to them.”

Rodriquez said this lack of support often necessitates children step in as interpreters for their families during medical appointments. Even if a professional medical interpreter is provided, parents often pull their children out of school to go to appointments to ensure there is no misunderstanding or cultural misinterpretation regarding health concerns and medical instructions.

"Watching my parents struggle as they navigated the health care system is what made me realize there was a need for Spanish-speaking health care workers – especially for doctors," said Melissa Rodriguez Mendoza, a member of the 2022–2023 inaugural class of American Heart Association’s National Hispanic Latino Cardiovascular Collaborative (NHLCC) Scholars Program and currently a third-year medical student at Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajarain Jalisco, Mexico. "This early exposure is what inspired me to become the doctor my parents needed back then."

"Breaking down language barriers in health care is not just about communication; it's about breaking down walls that hinder access to vital care and ensuring every voice is heard, understood and empowered," said Alejandro de la Cova, a member of the current 2023-2024 NHLCC Scholars Program class and third-year medical student at The Ohio State University College of Medicine who is heavily involved in working with the Hispanic Latino community in Columbus, Ohio.

Rodriguez said better communication between Hispanic Latino patients and their providers could improve their health care and health outcomes while increasing trust in the health care system and can mitigate the language barriers for patients.

“I believe in the power of representation within health care. By fostering diversity and inclusion, we not only enhance patient care but also inspire the next generation of health care leaders to break barriers and drive innovation, ensuring a healthier, more equitable future for all," he said.

The Association’s National Hispanic Latino Cardiovascular Scholars Program provides mentorship and professional development opportunities, leveraging scientific thought leadership to cultivate the next generation of Hispanic Latino researchers and health care leaders to actively address longstanding systemic inequities in health care. Additionally, the Association’s Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) Scholars Program supports undergraduate students enrolled in biomedical and health sciences at HSIs to connect with committed and impactful mentors to learn about health disparities in Hispanic Latino communities, how cultural sensitivity can provide safe and reassuring clinical spaces and how inclusivity is essential in science.

Learn more about how the American Heart Association is working to improve health and health care for all people at heart.org

Additional resources:

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For Media Inquiries: 214-706-1173 

Cathy Lewis: cathy.lewis@heart.org

Elizabeth Nickerson: elizabeth.nickerson@heart.org

For Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)