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J Gen Intern Med. 2011 May;26(5):512-7. doi: 10.1007/s11606-010-1584-6. Epub 2010 Dec 1.

Do physicians with self-reported non-English fluency practice in linguistically disadvantaged communities?

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  • 1Department of Family Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.



Language concordance between physicians and patients may reduce barriers to care faced by patients with limited English proficiency (LEP). It is unclear whether physicians with fluency in non-English languages practice in areas with high concentrations of people with LEP.


To investigate whether physician non-English language fluency is associated with practicing in areas with high concentrations of people with LEP.


Cross-sectional cohort study.


A total of 61,138 practicing physicians no longer in training who participated in the California Medical Board Physician Licensure Survey from 2001-2007.


Self-reported language fluency in Spanish and Asian languages. Physician practice ZIP code corresponding to: (1) high concentration of people with LEP and (2) high concentration of linguistically isolated households.


Practice location ZIP code was geocoded with geographic medical service study designations. We examined the unadjusted relationships between physician self-reported fluency in Spanish and selected Asian languages and practice location, stratified by race-ethnicity. We used staged logistic multiple variable regression models to isolate the effect of self-reported language fluency on practice location controlling for age, gender, race-ethnicity, medical specialty, and international medical graduate status.


Physicians with self-reported fluency in Spanish or an Asian language were more likely to practice in linguistically designated areas in these respective languages compared to those without fluency. Physician fluency in an Asian language [adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 1.77; 95% confidence intervals (CI): 1.63-1.92] was independently associated with practicing in areas with a high number of LEP Asian speakers. A similar pattern was found for Spanish language fluency (AOR = 1.77; 95% CI: 1.43-1.82) and areas with high numbers of LEP Spanish-speakers. Latino and Asian race-ethnicity had the strongest effect on corresponding practice location, and this association was attenuated by language fluency.


Physicians who are fluent in Spanish or an Asian language are more likely to practice in geographic areas where their potential patients speak the corresponding language.

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