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HHS Invests $8 Million to Improve Health Care Access by Training New Physicians to Care for Individuals with Disabilities and Individuals with Limited English Proficiency

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), announced more than $8 million through 18 awards to train primary care medical students, physician assistant students, and medical residents in providing culturally and linguistically appropriate care for individuals with limited English proficiency and individuals with physical or intellectual and developmental disabilities. HRSA’s mission focuses on improving health care access for historically underserved communities, and today’s investments address critical gaps that can occur in health care training and impede access to care.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to improving health equity and ensuring that all patients have access to health care providers with the training and skills to meet their needs,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Today we are making it easier for a person with a physical or developmental disability or who speaks limited English to see a physician who understands them and their health care needs. HHS will continue to take action to reduce barriers to care and support the health care workforce and the patients they serve.” 

“At the Health Resources and Services Administration, we work every day to improve access to health care services for individuals and families in underserved and rural communities and to support the health care workforce necessary to deliver this care,” said HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson. “By helping medical schools and primary care residency programs build trainees’ skills and give them hands-on experience caring for individuals with physical or developmental disabilities and individuals with limited English proficiency, we are investing in building a workforce that matches what communities need.”

2022 survey  of more than 700 physicians found that only 41 percent of respondents were ‘very confident’ about their ability to provide the same quality of care to people with disabilities as those without, and only 57 percent strongly agreed that they welcomed people with disabilities into their practices, leading researchers to conclude that improvements in medical education and training are needed to better prepare physicians to care for people with disabilities. HRSA’s investments will support primary care trainees in building culturally competent skills to provide care to individuals with physical or intellectual and developmental disabilities through clinical and classroom training and rotations providing health care services to individuals with disabilities. 

Individuals with limited English proficiency disproportionately experience poor health outcomes and often substandard provider experiences, including challenges understanding doctors’ questions and diagnoses and with reading and using prescriptions, referrals, and follow-up directions. Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans make up the majority of people with LEP, and noncitizens are significantly more likely than U.S. born people to have LEP. A 2021 Kaiser Family Foundation survey  found that, among Hispanic adults who completed the survey in Spanish, 35% said it is difficult to find a doctor who explains things in a way they can understand compared with 17% of those who completed the survey in English. A 2022 Urban Institute Report – PDF  found that 30.8 percent of Asian Americans and 12.1 percent Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander adults had limited English proficiency.  The languages Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander adults speak are varied and were rarely available in health settings, showing the greater need for language accessibility. Data from HRSA-funded Community Health Centers that provide primary care regardless of an individuals’ ability to pay, shows that more than 25% of the 30 million health center patients treated annually are best served in a language other than English. The American Association of Medical Colleges  recently highlighted the need for academic medicine to provide more language training to medical students to address patient communication, especially for physicians practicing in areas where much of the population has limited English proficiency HRSA’s investments will support primary care trainees in activities such as language skill development and fluency; and clinical training, care and practice serving populations with limited English proficiency to help build a future workforce with the capacity to improve health outcomes for all.

Awardees will focus on either disability, limited English proficiency, or both. To view the full list of awardees, see