Addressing the Lack of Latinx Physicians

A conversation with KPSOM Clinical Professor Antonio T. Hernandez Conte

September 19, 2023

KPSOM Clinical Professor Antonio T. Hernandez Conte, MD, MBA, FASA

KPSOM Clinical Professor Antonio T. Hernandez Conte, MD, MBA, FASA

Dr. Hernandez Conte, MD, MBA, FASA, is a graduate of Brown University and the Boston University School of Medicine. He completed his anesthesiology residency/fellowship from the Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Antonio Hernandez Conte is a Partner with the Southern California Permanente Medical Group (SCPMG), where he practices as a cardiac anesthesiologist and serves in various regional leadership roles with Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Hernandez Conte is a Clinical Professor at the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine, the Regional Co-Chair for SCPMG LGBTQ+ Committee and the EID-LGBTQ+ Physician Director at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center. He is President of the California Society of Anesthesiologists and serves on multiple committees with the American Board of Anesthesiologists. Dr. Hernandez Conte spends much of his time in legislative advocacy on behalf of patients and anesthesiologists. He is the ASA Physician Liaison to the US Congressional Equality PAC.

As we recognize Latinx Heritage Month at KPSOM, we asked Dr. Hernandez Conte about his journey to medicine and Latinx representation in the medical profession during the following short interview.

What made you want to become a doctor? 

I was never one of those people who knew early on that I wanted to become a doctor. I was very good at science and math, but I had never thought of myself as entering medicine because I really had no knowledge about it although I had always been part of STEM pathway programs throughout high school.

Was there a specific person(s) who inspired you to go to medical school? And/or a specific event that was the catalyst to pursuing a career in medicine?

After I decided to attend Brown University, they sent me an invitation to participate in a summer program before my freshman year called “PreMed for Sure/PreMed for Keeps (PMS/PMK).” The program was part of a federally funded Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) for underrepresented persons in medicine (i.e., Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Native Americans), and was founded by Dr. Levi Adams. I attended the 4-week program at Brown, which basically exposed us to premed courses, allowed us to shadow physicians, and gave us academic advice on the rigors of applying to medical school and how to maximize our success rate.  

After I attended the program, being a doctor was on my radar, but it didn’t really click for me until my junior year when I spent time shadowing my best friend’s father who was a cardiologist in Rochester, NY. After that I made the decision to apply to medical school! Additionally, Dr. Adams was really a legendary trailblazer in Brown and known nationally for recognizing the need to increase the presence of underrepresented persons in medicine; he served as a mentor and role model for me throughout my time at Brown, and I am eternally grateful to him. 

Are there any Latinx medical leaders who inspire you? 

There was definitely a complete lack of Latinx role models in my career until very recently. So, I think that really reflects our complete underrepresentation in medicine overall (less than 6 percent of physicians are Hispanic/Latinx), but also having Latinx leaders in academia and health systems. I am proud to say that Dr. Shari Chevez (Regional Director of EID at SCPMG) has really been an inspiration to me as she oversees the entire Kaiser SoCal Regional EID Program; she has elevated the need to address healthcare disparities in our communities and how to build bridges in our fragmented health system. Dr. Chevez is also a mentor and sponsor for all of the EID & LGBTQ+ Physician Champions at each KP Medical Center, and she always strives to elevate us. Dr. Chevez personally ensured that our LGBTQ+ leaders were assured a place in the EID family and for me that has meant so much as a Gay, Latino physician.

What are some ways we can champion Latinx med students and physicians as they pursue careers in medicine? 

I think we first have to acknowledge that there are simply not enough Latinx physicians. So, we have to really work together and use platforms (i.e., Zoom webinars) where we can reach a large number of Latinx premed and medical students and also serve as mentors for other Latinx physicians. We also have to build bridges with other medical institutions so we can create synergy. We also have to realistically face the fact that we have to look for allies and mentors/sponsors who are not Latinx but “see us,” understand our plight, and are willing to sponsor us. We are lucky at SCPMG and Kaiser Permanente that there are a host of opportunities to mentor young students through the Hippocrates Circle Program, mentor college students via the MiMentor Organization, and also work together with KPSOM and SCPMG.