Empowering Latinx physicians, medical professionals and medical students through education, advocacy & health policy to support their efforts to eliminate health disparity, promote and optimize health and the quality of life for Latinx in California.
Get to Know Your LPOC Board
Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola,
LPOC Board Vice-Chair
Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, M.D., Ph.D., currently serves as the Vice President of the Latinx Physicians of California’s Board of Directors. Currently at UC Davis School of Medicine, he wears many hats, including Professor of Clinical Medicine; Director, Center for Reducing Health Disparities; and Director, Community Engagement, Clinical Translational Science Center.
Originally born in Guamúchil, Sinaloa, Mexico, Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola is a tireless advocate for improving access to health care, utilization of services and the overall health of underserved and vulnerable populations, with a keen focus on the Latinx community.
As a well-respected member of the physician community in California and given his expertise and history of working toward creating greater health equity, Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola was selected to serve on California’s Drafting Guidelines Workgroup to advise state leaders on COVID-19 vaccine distribution. In this role, Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola and other health experts are responsible for creating guidelines for the prioritization of available supplies of COVID-19 vaccines.
Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola is also an internationally renowned expert on health, mental health and comorbidities in diverse, underserved populations. As on-site principal investigator of the Mexican American Prevalence and Services Survey – the second largest mental health study conducted in the United States on Mexican Americans – he identified the most prevalent mental health disorders in the Mexican-origin population in California’s Central Valley; showed that the rate of disorders increases the longer the individual resides in the United States; and demonstrated that children of immigrants have even greater rates of mental disorders. From this study, he developed a model of service delivery that increased access to mental health services among the Central Valley’s low-income, underserved and rural populations.
Over the past 25 years, he has held several World Health Organization (WHO) and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) advisory board and consulting appointments and is currently a member of the Executive Committee of WHO’s World Mental Health Survey Consortium (WMH). He is the WHO’s coordinator for Latin America overseeing population-based national surveys of Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, a regional survey of Brazil, and two surveys of Medellín, Colombia
Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola’s work has been recognized at the international, state and local levels.
He was named a distinguished member of the Top 10 U.S. Latinx Physicians in the May 2016 issue of Latinx Leaders Magazine. In 2020 he received the prestigious Ohtli Award, the highest honor granted by the Mexican government to individuals who have dedicated their lives to improving the well-being of Mexicans, Mexican Americans and other Latinxs abroad.
Dialogue with Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola:
Question: What can or should we be saying to the Latinx community in California to keep them safe from COVID-19, and what can we do to improve the negative impacts that have been occurring in the Latinx community?
Unfortunately, Latinxs in California are the community that has been most negatively affected in terms of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Now we’re learning that they are being left behind in the rate of vaccinations. To keep safe, it’s extremely important that Latinxs continue to adhere to the proven public health measures of using a mask (a double mask is even more effective), keep physical distance, wash their hands or use disinfectant sanitizer, and avoid meetings with large groups, such as family members who live in a different household. It is critically important to get vaccinated when the turn comes because vaccines are safe and effective, and they are truly keeping those who get vaccinated, their families, and friends from getting sick, being hospitalized and dying. We have to be messengers that vaccines are safe, effective, save lives, and we need to tailor the messages to the specific audiences. Especially the underserved such as farmworkers and other essential workers who have been disproportionally impacted by COVID-19 deaths.
Question: What do you find most rewarding in your work of trying to create greater health equity? Why is that work so important?
It gives me great satisfaction to see that I can modestly contribute to increasing access to care and utilization of health services to those who underutilize them. I have seen firsthand the negative impact on the health of vulnerable populations such as farmworkers and immigrants when they are unable to access services. All too often, they experience negative outcomes. Latinxs tend to be a large proportion of the population that lacks health insurance. Oftentimes, monolingual, Spanish-speaking immigrants (or those who speak indigenous languages such as Mixteco, Xapoteco, Triqui) receive services in English, which affect the quality of care. This is very important and personal to me because I have dedicated much of my career to battling systemic and pervasive social and structural inequities. It is imperative that we remedy these systemic disparities. Things are not going to get better until we collectively bring viable solutions to improve the situation.
Question: How long have you been a member of LPOC, and why do you believe it is important to be a part of this organization?
I am privileged to be one of the founding members of LPOC since it started in 2011. The organization has a vital purpose because there continues to be significant inequities in the number of Latinx physicians in California. While we represent 40% of the state’s population, we only comprise about 6% of the physician workforce. So, there is an abysmal shortage in the Latinx physician workforce in California, which is important to recognize because there are Latinx communities that are totally lacking access and utilization of culturally and linguistically appropriate services. We need to collectively remedy this disparity. I’m a proud board member of LPOC, and I would highly encourage others to join, too. The more members we have, the better advocates we can be to significantly reduce disparities and improve the health of all Latinxs and other underserved populations in California.