Immigrants have been a force for change in the American healthcare system — as doctors and nurses who provide essential health services, and as patients whose needs have prompted hospitals and clinics to be more creative and responsive, said speakers at a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event on Oct. 8.

During the program, “How Are Immigrants Changing the Way Health Care Is Practiced?” the panel covered the intersections of immigration and healthcare, from the need to license more foreign-trained doctors in the United States to the ways hospitals are adapting to the cultures of patients.

The panel consisted of Dr. Michelle Bholat, co-founder and executive director of the UCLA International Medical Graduate Program, and Pilar De La Cruz Samoulian, former director of the Central California Center for Excellence in Nursing. Emily Bazar, California news editor and columnist with Kaiser Health News, served as moderator.

Before a full house in the RedZone at Gensler in downtown Los Angeles, Bazar listed the various medical professions in which foreign-born people represent one-fifth or more of practitioners, from dentists, to pharmacists, to home health care aides.

Bholat, who is a professor of family medicine in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said that the United States has a long history of relying on foreign-born doctors to go into rural and other areas where American-born doctors are scarce. And she noted that foreign-born doctors represent a disproportionate share of America’s primary-care doctors, since physicians trained here often prefer to become specialists.

The UCLA International Medical Graduate Program helps foreign-trained physicians, many from Latin America, transition into practice in California; graduates of the program agree to practice for a time in underserved areas. She said that such internationally trained doctors are sometimes looked down upon, but they are vital and are making health care better, and often are more sensitive to the needs of patients who are also immigrants.

Read the full story at Zócalo Public Square.