Meet Efrain Talamantes, MD, MBA, MS

Medical Director for Hospital Medicine Efrain Talamantes connects on a deep level to the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital’s mission, as well as to its patient base. His experiences growing up in Norwalk bring strong and lasting associations.

As a child of eight, Dr. Talamantes was asked to translate for his Spanish-speaking mother, an immigrant from Mexico, when she was in a neonatal ward about to give birth to his younger brother.

“Those were very scary times,” says Dr. Talamantes, an internal medicine physician. “My mom had complications and she needed help… I could see the challenges to getting healthcare when you had to rely on an 8-year-old to translate your mother’s OBGYN issues. I witnessed firsthand the disparity in care between patients who spoke English and those who didn’t.”

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Dr. Talamanetes’s medical ‘education’ continued when he was 12, translating for his father, who had a work-related injury while pressing clothes at a dry cleaners.

“I had to explain to a variety of doctors what happened,” Dr. Talamantes says, adding that his immigrant father was laid off when he was too injured to work. “He didn’t have insurance and he wasn’t protected by any workers’ comp. Filling out all kinds of forms in English just to get him an X-ray… it was all a struggle.”

Dr. Talamantes began to think that if he did well in school he could become a doctor. “Instead of letting a kid defend his dad, I could be the one helping a father who needs to go back to work and provide for his family,” he says. “Now I get to practice medicine and I understand my patients’ struggles, and I can do it in Spanish and English.”

“Instead of letting a kid defend his dad, I could be the one helping a father who needs to go back to work and provide for his family. Now I get to practice medicine and I understand my patients’ struggles, and I can do it in Spanish and English.”—Dr. Talamantes, Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital Medical Director for Hospital Medicine

Attracting Others with a Similar Mission

“MLKCH is drawing a lot of people who come from these communities. We all feel very proud to be working here,” Dr. Talamantes continues. “It’s still very uncommon to have a physician in South LA who shares your background or speaks your language. We want to help the entire hospital use interpreters, and to learn Spanish or any other language the community needs.“

Although Dr. Talamantes is pleased that the hospital has invested in technology to better organize and coordinate patient procedures, he believes that it’s also important to help patients understand their treatment plan. Only medical practitioners—and follow-up educational materials at the appropriate level in the patient’s language—can accomplish that.

“We need to take care of patients based on what they find most important for their health, not just what we think is the most important. Otherwise, the treatment won’t work,” he says. “We have to ensure that patients are making better decisions, at the same time that we guide them in a culturally and linguistically sensitive way. That can be very difficult if the majority of healthcare providers don’t strive to connect with the community.”

Mentoring is Key

Dr. Talamantes is determined to advance the hospital’s goal to help minority students get into healthcare. Indeed, he has personally mentored several hundred young aspiring health professionals, and he travels the country for speaking engagements to spread the message that “we need more healthcare professionals to serve communities like South LA,” he says. He is the co-founder of Alliance in Mentorship, a nonprofit that developed www.mimentor.org  , an online mentoring community for aspiring health professionals.

“It’s important to be a role model for students who grow up with socio-economic challenges. That’s one of my legacies,” he says. “I definitely want the hospital to support students by developing volunteer, scholarship, and research opportunities—ensuring young people have the opportunity to one day work at MLKCH and serve the community.”

“My goal is to target the first generation,” Dr. Talamantes continues, noting that he grew up with friends who were first generation Chinese, Korean and Indian, as well as Hispanic. “I try to make my message universal. At MLKCH, many of us are planning to go into the community to speak in classrooms and to local organizations, and we envision creating opportunities for students to visit the hospital to learn more about what we do and why they are needed.”

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A Focus on True Patient-Centered Care

In addition to these initiatives, Dr. Talamantes is helping to establish an MLKCH innovation: the 24/7 use of hospitalists—physicians like himself who spend all of their time caring for patients in the hospital—throughout MLKCH. “If physicians are constantly coming in and out, there’s a lot they can miss,” he explains. “The physician needs to be available at all times to support the care team.”

“MLKCH represents a unique opportunity to be a model hospital that can guide hospital care throughout the country,” he concludes. “There are so many places that need a hospital like this one.”

Dr. Talamantes is an assistant clinical professor at UCLA and holds a Bachelor’s degree from UCLA and an MD from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, as well as an MBA with a focus on organizational management from the Emory University Goizueta School of Business. He completed his internal medicine residency training at UC Davis where he participated in Transforming Education and Community Health (TEACH), a training program in caring for the medically underserved. He also completed a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at UCLA, and served as a hospitalist at Kaiser Permanente.