The high demand for Spanish-speaking physicians to serve the burgeoning U.S. Hispanic community is attracting more Latinos to the medical profession.
While Latinos account for only 3,459 of the 43,919 students at U.S. medical schools, that figure represents an increase of almost 23 percent from 2004, according to statistics compiled by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Luis Ramírez said he decided to become a doctor after witnessing first-hand the lack of medical care available to residents of poor areas on Chicago's South Side.
"My dad suffered from Parkinson's and I often accompanied him to the doctor's and we didn't have money," Ramírez told Efe.
"There weren't many clinics there, there weren't many doctors."
"Living there and seeing that there weren't many options, I saw there was something missing and I thought there was something I could do: be a doctor and return there some day," he said.
But it took Ramírez, now 35, a long time to begin acting on that conviction.
After graduation from Morgan Park High School, he spent 12 years as an electrician before entering college in 2003. He took classes at night while working full-time.
Ramírez got his bachelor's degree in 2010 and entered the University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Medicine in August of that year.
Looking back, he said the biggest barrier he had to overcome was the lack of role models, as neither of his Mexican immigrant parents finished high school.
"I had no mentor to tell me what to expect in school," he said.
The absence of an example to follow was not an issue for Costa Rica-born Cassandra List, a second-year med student at UIC whose sister, Rebeca, is a physician.
List, 24, said it was while working as an interpreter at a clinic that she resolved to try to become a doctor.
The chance to treat Hispanic patients with respect and cultural sensitivity is what motivated 22-year-old Mexican native Cesar Menchaca to pursue a career in medicine.
"It's important to have a Latino doctor like you who can understand you," says Menchaca.
Ramírez, List and Menchaca are affiliated with the Hispanic Center of Excellence at UIC, which offers advice and guidance to Latinos interested in a medical career.
"We provide the information and support that students with talent need to reach their goals," the center's director, Dr. Jorge Girotti, tells Efe.
He describes the need for Hispanic physicians as immense.
"The number of Latino doctors who are leaving the profession due to retirement or death is so great that not even the present number of (Hispanic med school) applicants can fill it," he says.
"Latinos are now 4 percent of all doctors in the United States, but those percentages are even lower among dentists, 2 percent; and nursing, 1.5 percent," Girotti says. "So we need Latinos in all branches of medical care."