ALUMNI PROFILE: DARIN LATIMORES'S SIMPLE ACT OF FIRST AID LAUNCHES CAREER IN MEDICINE
Helping others realize their potential now his mission
As an African-American kid growing up without a father figure in subsidized housing in Pittsburg, Calif., Darin Latimore hardly seemed a likely candidate to become a physician.
When Latimore was 7 years old, his father went to prison for robbing a bank and didn't return until he was in high school. His parents divorced a year later. At his high school, many African-American students dropped out before graduation.
"I didn't exactly come from a background of privilege," he says. "There were few educated people in my family, and certainly no doctors. So a career in medicine wasn't something I considered a possibility."
A pivotal incident in his life occurred when he was in seventh grade. Latimore and a good friend were playing football outside when the other boy stepped on some broken glass. Blood gushed.
"He became hysterical, so I took him to my house, found a bucket and cleaned him up," Latimore recalls. "It was basic first aid, but he went from hysterical to smiling, saying ‘Let's go finish the game.' That was the impetus for me to become a doctor. I saw how that simple act transformed him."
In high school, an English teacher took an interest in Latimore, encouraging him to go to college. The teacher helped Latimore secure funds that enabled him to attend a summer program at UC Berkeley for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. He spent three hours each day on public transit to get there and back, but loved the experience.
"It was incredible – the best summer of my life," he recalls. "Before the summer program, I had no clue about what going to college meant and then I was taking classes at UC Berkeley every day. The program instilled in me what was possible and I thought, ‘I can do this.' "
After high school, he went on to UC Berkeley but still felt illprepared as a college student. He signed up for programs designed to keep minority students on track in math and science. When he applied to medical school at UC Davis, he felt fortunate again to find an outreach program at the School of Medicine to support him.
"I felt a great deal of support from faculty members for my goals, especially my desire to pursue HIV/AIDS care," says Latimore.
After graduation and completion of a residency program in internal medicine at UC Davis, Latimore specialized in HIV/AIDS care as an internist at Kaiser Permanente in south Sacramento for 11 years. He also helped direct medical education at Kaiser, writing and approving resident and studentrelated policies and procedures.
Now, at the midpoint of a successful career, the 1994 UC Davis medical alumnus wants to boost the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, like himself, as well as help develop a physician workforce that reflects California's diverse populations.
He decided to make a career switch last July that will help him with his new goals. Latimore returned to UC Davis as the School of Medicine's first director of student diversity. In his new role, he coordinates support for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or who have been marginalized because of sexual orientation or gender identity. He also helps premedical students who need guidance in achieving their goal of acceptance into medical school.
Latimore is part of the school's admissions committee, which in recent years revised the application review process to include consideration of socioeconomic barriers as part of the assessment of an applicant's potential. He travels regularly throughout California to visit schools in communities underrepresented in medicine in hopes of recruiting students who can become physicians and give back to their communities
A great deal of work must be done to achieve proportionate representation, Latimore says. A report last year from the Greenlining Institute revealed that California's doctors do not reflect the diversity of the state. Latinos and African Americans are seriously underrepresented among the state's physicians. While Latinos make up more than 37 percent of California's population, they account for just 5 percent of the state's physicians. African Americans make up almost 6 percent of the population, but only 3 percent of the state's doctors. The study concluded that underrepresentation of African-Americans and Latinos among California physicians is "dire."
The underrepresentation has grave consequences, he contends. Non-white physicians play an important role in access to health care in California because they are much more likely to work in primary care and practice in medically underserved areas than are other medical school graduates.
"The physician pool in California doesn't in any way reflect the population," Latimore says. "If we are truly going to tackle disparities in health care and practice quality medicine, you have to have people who reflect the community."
Latimore says he will draw upon his own experiences to advise and mentor students throughout their medical school careers to help them overcome academic and personal obstacles that could affect school choice and performance.
"I know from personal experience that simply making the decision to ‘go away to school' can be extremely difficult for some kids," he says. "Kids from economically disadvantaged backgrounds often contribute to their family's household income, like I did in my undergraduate years. They need strong advocates in their academic pursuits, and we have to find ways to get more young minds on the pathway to medicine."