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Montefiore in the News

October 24, 2017

Program Aims to Bridge the Cultural Gap Between Doctors and Their Patients

October, 24, 2017—(BRONX, NY)— Juan Robles, M.D., attending physician at Montefiore Health System and assistant professor of Family and Social Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has earned a $1 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to support Bronx students pursuing healthcare careers and create a more inclusive workforce dedicated to underserved communities.

There is often a startling contrast between the cultural and ethnic backgrounds of healthcare providers and the people they treat. For example, only one in 15 doctors is African-American, although African Americans are one-eighth of the U.S. population. One in 20 doctors are Hispanic/Latino despite one in six Americans identifying as Hispanic/Latino. This is a major problem according to published research on disparities, which shows having more diverse healthcare providers enhances communication and trust with patients, strengthens medical research and is essential to addressing the health inequality that plagues our country.

Using this grant money, Dr. Robles will gain expertise in workforce development and expand the Bronx Community Health Leaders (BxCHL), a “pipeline” program he co-founded in 2014 with current Einstein medical student Julissa De La Cruz. The program offers volunteer positions to youth from communities underrepresented in healthcare professions. Working at Montefiore’s Family Health Center, the students learn about delivering primary care to underserved people and gain hands-on experience helping patients navigate the healthcare system.

“This program is a bridge for students to reach their potential, cultivating a workforce that reflects the communities we serve,” says Dr. Robles. “When we invest in motivated young people who support our community – our clinics, our patients and our neighborhoods thrive. I am honored to be a part of that journey for these students as they become the next generation of homegrown healthcare leaders.”

Dr. Robles moved from Honduras to the Bronx when he was 13 years old. He did not speak a word of English at the time. He credits volunteering as a translator for Spanish-speaking patients at the Einstein Community Health Outreach (ECHO) clinic, the first student-coordinated clinic in New York, with giving him the skills and confidence to apply to medical school. 

“We are proud to have Dr. Robles, a success story himself, working in our practices and increasing opportunities for promising students to enter the field of medicine,” said Peter A. Selwyn, M.D., M.P.H., chair, Department of Family and Social Medicine and professor, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

To date, 16 BxCHL students have enrolled in medical schools around the country, including Einstein, Weill Cornell Medical College, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and New York Medical College. Earlier this year, BxCHL students presented research on the program at the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine Annual Spring Conference in San Diego. Their work will also be presented in several national forums including the upcoming 2017 Family Medicine Education Consortium (FMEC), Ohio, and the National Caucus on Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Health Disparities in Washington D.C.