Celebrating Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month

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  • October 15, 2020

Written by: Alexandra A. Alvarez

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2.3. 

It’s a really small number. According to the latest data from the AAMC, only 2.3% of active physicians in the United States today are Hispanic/Latinx women. Additionally, according to most recent data, 16.7% of the U.S. population currently identifies as Hispanic/Latinx. This number is only expected to increase in the future, as they are one of the fastest growing minority groups in the United States. And so, despite this growing number, having only 2.3% of physicians be Hispanic/Latinx women, it is clear that there exists a huge need to promote Hispanic/Latinx identifying women in the healthcare field at every step of the way. 

This is why the American Medical Women’s Association is proud to celebrate National Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month (Sep. 15 – Oct. 15). In honor of the last week of this celebratory month, we will be highlighting some amazing and powerful Hispanic and/or Latina physicians while uplifting them to share their story with us, what their experience has been like as a Hispanic and/or Latina in medicine, and any advice that they may have for young women who are pursuing a career in the healthcare field. We are forever grateful for women like them who have paved the way for those who follow behind. 

Ana M. Viamonte Ros, MD, MPH

Bio:  

Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros currently serves as Medical Director of Palliative Care and Bioethics Services at Baptist Health South Florida. She is also Associate Professor at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University. Previously, Dr. Viamonte. Ros served as Florida’s first State Surgeon General and first woman and Cuban American to head the Florida Department of Health from 2007-11. Through her professional and community volunteer activities, she is committed to advancing the opportunities for equitable and accessible health care to all.

What is it like being a Hispanic woman and/or Latina in medicine? 

I am so proud of my heritage and being able to represent my community in the medical field. I grew up with 4 Spanish-speaking grandparents and thanks to them I am bilingual and enjoy helping Hispanic patients and families that would otherwise struggle understanding their clinicians. I am extremely aware of the importance of being culturally competent and the importance of respecting and being educated as to the background of each of our patients. I believe that we should practice the “platinum” rule – for treating others the way THEY want to be treated. For that to happen, we need to be curious, open-minded, and appreciative of all of our diverse backgrounds.

What advice do you have for young women who may be on the path to medicine? 

Follow your passions. Never let anyone or even society dictate and limit you as to what you can pursue and accomplish. In general, the respect you show others will be the respect that is shown to you. Additionally, be true to yourself. At different times in your life, your priorities will differ. You don’t have to follow only one path – there are many different roads that you can take that will deliver you to your ultimate destination. Life isn’t easy or predictable (for anyone). Work hard, be humble, share recognition/credit, learn from others, and be committed to self-improvement always.

Renee Rodriguez Paro, MD 

Bio:  

My name is Renee Rodriguez Paro and I’m a pediatric cardiologist, wife and mom of two. I’m Mexican American and was born and raised in Southeastern Arizona. I attended Arizona State University on a full ride scholarship where I graduated magna cum laude. I went on to attend the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine where I became the first in my family to receive an MD in 2010. I couples-matched with my husband, John, at Stanford where I completed my 3 year Pediatrics residency and 3 year Pediatric Cardiology Fellowship. In my final year of fellowship I was the inaugural chief fellow. In 2016 I completed my training and accepted a position in a multispecialty private group practice in the East Bay Area and currently work part time as an outpatient pediatric cardiologist specializing in general pediatric cardiology, preventative cardiology and fetal echocardiography. I am the co-founder of a nonprofit called Doctor Vegetable and co-host of a podcast called “Reconciling Medicine” alongside my husband. 

What is it like being a Hispanic woman and/or Latina in medicine? 

I absolutely love it. I was lucky to have grown up with parents who were the most supportive and encouraging people on the planet. Though I didn’t see many Latin women in medicine, I was never deterred from the field. In some ways I sought to become the mentor I never had. 

What advice do you have for young women who may be on the path to medicine? 

We need you here. Do not ever let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do. The road will be long, it will test you in countless ways. You will be able to rise to the challenge if you root yourself firmly in your belief and in your capabilities. You possess inherent qualities that will make you an incredibly good physician – stop comparing yourself to those around you. This is your race, keep your head in your lane. You can do hard things.

Rocio Salas-When, MD 

Bio:  

Originally from Ciudad Juarez Mexico, I completed my medical training in Mexico and decided to apply for the USMLE in the United States. I’m the first and only physician in my family. Growing up in Mexico one of the first diseases I ever heard of was Diabetes. My paternal grandfather died of Type 2 diabetes and a maternal aunt also had type 2 diabetes and eventually passed away from renal failure. One of my earliest memories is of me playing doctor, I had a desk with my family pictures, and I was waiting for my patients to come in. For me, it wasn’t a matter of what I was going to be when I grew up, it was a “when and how do I get there?” When I came to the US I decided to come to NYC. It was love at first sight, as I had a challenge of becoming a doctor back home, now I had the challenge to pass my boards and do the rest of my medical training in NYC. Today I have my own office in Park Avenue, I practice private practice and I love what I do. And yes, now I have my real desk with my family pictures.

What is it like being a Hispanic woman and/or Latina in medicine? 

I am very proud to represent Mexico everywhere I go. I am an immigrant that worked very hard and love to show how Mexicans and immigrants are hard workers and can achieve the same as anybody else. Also, as a woman, I overcame many obstacles to be where I am. I had to leave behind many preconceptions of what a woman should do or be.

What advice do you have for young women who may be on the path to medicine? 

Medicine is a calling, if you feel it calling you then do it. Do everything you need to do to get there. Discipline, studying, organizing and sacrifices are all pillars to becoming a doctor. It seems like a lot, but down the line when you have that patient that is so grateful to you it makes every single sweat and tear worth it.

Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD, FACP, FAMWA 

Bio:  

Past Executive Director, IUNCOE in Women’s Health, she leads efforts to achieve the mission of improving the health of Indiana women with an outreach program, statewide collaborations, and influencing policy decisions. Professor of Clinical Medicine and Pediatrics at IU School of Medicine, she has served in a number of leadership positions in health care organizations and medical organizations including president, American Medical Women’s Association (2015-2016) and vice-chair of the American Medical Association Women’s Physician Section. She is an Inaugural Fellow of AMWA and recognized for outstanding achievements in science, medicine and academia. Dr. Rohr-Kirchgraber has been the recipient of numerous awards that include: IUPUI Outstanding Woman Leader Award, Indianapolis Monthly‘s “Top Doctors”, American Medical Association (AMA) Innovations in Medicine award, American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) “Exceptional Mentor” award, and IU Trustee Teaching Award. In 2017, she was named a Woman of Influence by the Indianapolis Business Journal. An internist, her clinical expertise is caring for adults and adolescents with eating disorders, primary care for adults and adolescents especially those with chronic conditions including childhood cancer survivors. Her emphasis is on wellness and the prevention of disease. Prior to 2007 she was on faculty at SUNY Upstate Medical Center, Morehouse School of Medicine and Emory School of Medicine. She graduated from Weill Cornell Medicine and completed her residency in internal medicine at University Hospital of Cleveland Case Western Reserve University.

What is it like being a Hispanic woman and/or Latina in medicine? 

Like many in my community, the only physician I knew growing up was my pediatrician. He was fabulous and we were fortunate to have him as our pediatrician for many years. The continuity was amazing and I recognize now how unusual that is for many children now. My family and community were essential to my success. We have a very tight, loving extended family. It was not unusual to have “family” reunions in which over 100 people came. These were biological relatives as well as their relatives. I grew up thinking I had many relatives, though my mom was only one of 3, it seemed everyone was related. As an adult, I learned that we were, but not in the way I thought. When someone married into the family, so did their whole family! So whether blood relative or not, we were all family. At one time I was chatting with one of my great uncles, Uncle Alphonso, and he told me in his big booming voice around a campfire, “ You know Mi hija, you are not the first physician in the family.” “Oh, Uncle, I thought I was”, I replied. “No,” he said. “Our first grandfather was a barber in the Arizona territories and when the land changed from being part of Mexico to being part of the USA, he and his barber shop stayed put and was now in the USA”. I must have still had a puzzled look on my face because he continued, “In those days the barber was everything. He was the Dentist, the Doctor and the barber.” Glad to know I come from a long line of proud people! Coming from Los Angeles, California and living on the east coast and in the Midwest, I have learned to always ask to meet with a representative of the Diversity Office during every interview in a new location. I need to know about the diversity of the local community and what to expect from the environment and their commitment to their underrepresented minority (URM) community. As one of very few Latina/Hispanics in medicine it is important to make my presence known and to do what I can to impact the health of us all as well as provide opportunities to those from URM backgrounds.

What advice do you have for young women who may be on the path to medicine? 

Never doubt your abilities. I live by the saying “Where there’s a will there’s a way”. It just may not be the way you envisioned it. We need supporters, mentors, and pushers! And sometimes I am all of these, both leading and following. The support needed never ends and we each have to be advocates in our own ways. Many will discount us…..but that means we can have the surprise on them! They don’t expect us to be so successful, so let’s show them. My mantra is “Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History” Eleanor Roosevelt. Don’t be shy to ask for help or to tell others of your accomplishments.

Dr. Catricia Tilford

 PR Sheet 

Bio:  

Dr. Catricia Tilford is a successful board-certified pediatrician who is fellowship trained in pediatric urgent care physician. She is also an Asthma Champion for her local community health center. This title was earned after being one of the lead pediatricians in a state-wide pediatric asthma quality improvement project. This quality improvement project was the 2019 recipient of ABMS “Outstanding Achievement in Quality Improvement Award”. Dr. Catricia is also a parent coach, speaker and blogger. 

I began my medical career at the age of 17 when I matriculated into a 6 year combined B.A./M.D. medical program in Kansas- City, Missouri. This was a unique opportunity because I was able to start my medical school education immediately after graduating from high school This program also afforded me the opportunity to be accepted directly into medical school without having to take the MCAT. My residency interests changed during medical school and continued to change even during my intern year at Augusta University in Augusta, Georgia.  One of the most important lessons I learned during that season is the importance of having a mentor, especially one who is similar to you in regards to ethnic and cultural backgrounds.  Being able to speak to someone about my desires, fears and frustrations was an invaluable experience to have as I navigated how to change residency programs during my second year. 

What is it like being a Hispanic woman and/or Latina in medicine? 

I am Afro-Latina and I pride myself in being a first-generation to attend and successfully complete graduate school. My father’s familial lineage comes from Saltillo, Mexico and although Spanish is my second language it has always been important for me to seek out mentors,  fellow students, extra-curricular activities and organizations where I could easily identify with other minority students who were also pursuing similar interests as myself. I joined organizations like Student National Medical Association (SNMA) and LMSA (Latino Medical Student Association). Having friends in your inner circle who can relate to the demands of medical school as well as the unfortunate microaggressions that arise from time to time during your journey is so important.  It reminds you that, you are not alone and that you DO BELONG to be in this space because you are just as qualified, if not more. I finished medical school fairly young, in my early twenties, and it has always been a sense of pride to walk into a room to serve patients and the first thing they want to ask is,  “How old are you?”!  What is even more special to me is when I walk into a room and I see a Black and Latina mother and they are beaming with pride because they see themselves or their own daughter and nieta inside of me. 

What advice do you have for young women who may be on the path to medicine? 

As women we have to remember that although we may not always be invited to sit at the table we are more than capable of creating our own tables!!  You have to remember your “why” during this journey because there will be times when you want to throw in the towel. Do not quit! Do not believe the lies when they tell you to choose a less competitive residency, or that you are too bold or not approachable when you don’t smile constantly because you’re actually in deep thought.  Do not believe the lies that you cannot be the first to do whatever it is that you’re passionate about,  because you absolutely can! We know that racial health disparities exist, for various reasons. I believe that one of the biggest ways to improve those disparities is by starting with increasing the amount of graduating Hispanic/Latina physicians and other healthcare professionals into the healthcare system. I know that as an Afro-Latina pediatrician I have a huge responsibility of being an advocate not only for my patients but also for their families, whom I serve in a predominantly Latinx community, because too whom much is given, much is required. 

Erica Montes, MD, FACOG 

Bio:  

Hola! I’m Erica Montes, a board-certified OB/GYN. I was born and raised in Texas and my family is from Mexico. I received my medical degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and completed my residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center- Parkland Hospital which is the largest OB/GYN program in the nation. I was elected chief resident my last year. I loved my residency program and it was some of the best years along my journey. My husband is also a physician and I have three beautiful boys!

I am now a general OB/GYN in my 8th year of private practice. I split my time between delivering babies and performing minimally invasive surgery which I love. My newest project includes a bilingual women’s health blog called The Modern Mujer where I focus on female health topics, medicine, and female empowerment. Please visit www.themodernmujer.com to check it out!

What is it like being a Hispanic woman and/or Latina in medicine? 

Being a Latina in medicine can be challenging at times. There are not many Latinas in medicine so sometimes it can be lonely. Still, I use this as a motivation to be the best I can be and represent for other Latinas who want to pursue my career. I want to open doors for others to walk through them and realize that it is possible. 

What advice do you have for young women who may be on the path to medicine? 

The advice I would give to women considering medicine is:

  1. Choose the specialty you love and never look back. If you love what you do it will get you through the rough days and the best days will solidify why you chose this career.
  2. Work hard, play hard. 
  3. Don’t forget where you came from. Your background, your language, and your education make your perspective special and we need that in medicine. Remember that.

Ana Maria Lopez, MD, MPH, MACP

Bio: 

Dr. Lopez is an experienced health services researcher in the field of oncology, telemedicine, and patient-centered care. Dr. Lopez is a board-certified medical oncologist who specializes in women’s cancers, integrative oncology, and cancer risk reduction. Dr. Lopez, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College (A.B. Philosophy) and Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University (M.D.), is dedicated to translational research that improves access to care and the reduction of health disparities. She completed residency training in Internal Medicine, served as a Chief Resident and completed fellowships in General Internal Medicine, Hematology-Oncology, and Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. As a Fellow in Medical Oncology, Dr. Lopez was awarded a Cancer Prevention and Etiology Fellowship from the National Institute of Health. Concurrent with her subspecialty training, she completed a MPH at the University of Arizona and was awarded the Epidemiology Award ($10,000) for outstanding accomplishments. 

She then joined the University of Arizona College of Medicine faculty and later was named Associate Dean for Outreach and Multicultural Affairs. In 1996, she was designated as the founding Medical Director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program. As the founding Medical Director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program, Dr. Lopez is a telemedicine pioneer. With a passion for addressing issues on access to care, Dr. Lopez has embedded this priority in a majority of her studies. Studies have ranged from health research at the biological molecular level to the broader systematic health delivery level, all of which contribute to establishing optimal health care for individuals and communities. Dr. Lopez has led extramurally funded health science pipeline investigations to support the development of underrepresented students and trainees into the biomedical research and healthcare workforce. Dr. Lopez continued her work to support access to care and education as Associate Vice President for Health Equity and Inclusion at University of Utah Health with a counterpart role at Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Dr. Lopez joined the faculty in the Department of Medical Oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center and Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University in June 2018. Her most recent work has focused on the promotion of patient-reported outcomes, which are intended to reflect an individual’s perspective on and participation in his or her health. This work primarily focuses on developing patient-centered technologies, which range from a patient symptom self-management program, to a patient portal to monitor health and communicate with a care team, and a screening and diagnostic decision-making tool to promote the adoption of screening recommendations. These projects have focused on serving disease-specific populations, with the intention of serving a larger population in the future. 

Dr.. Lopez has nearly 100 peer-reviewed publications and multiple book chapters. Dr. Lopez most recently served as President of the American College of Physicians and is former Chair, Cancer Health Equity Committee, American Society of Clinical Oncology. Dr. Lopez serves on the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Education Committee and Telemedicine Standards Committee.

Dr. Lopez’s research, outreach, and her realization of her beliefs have been acknowledged on numerous occasions, with recent recognitions including Women of the Year by the Hispanic Professional Action Committee (2010), Best Doctors in America, and Honorary Member, Sociedad de Medicina Interna de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2017).

What is it like being a Hispanic woman and/or Latina in medicine? 

It is a tremendous privilege to care for people. To be able to practice my calling is incredibly fulfilling.

What advice do you have for young women who may be on the path to medicine? 

Persevere, act with integrity, keep joy in your heart, and always remember, “Sí, se puede.”

“Feminism demands the development of whole human beings, women and men.” 

Emma B. Olivera, MD, FAAP

Bio:  

I was born in a Northwest neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. My mother immigrated as a political refugee from Matanzas, Cuba as a child. My father immigrated from Tarija, Bolivia as a young adult. I am a prime example of the Inter-latinidad which permeates throughout the Chicagoland area. I identify myself as Latina, but foremost as an American-Bolivian-Cuban woman as all these cultures form who I am today. My pediatrician, Enrique Lujan, MD, was from Bolivia and became a strong role model in my formative years.  Dr. Lujan would call me colega, or colleague, when I was only four years old.  My family instilled the strong value of an education and learning both English and Spanish growing up. As my interest in medicine grew, much of my early college years were spent volunteering at a local medical center. I saw the great need for Spanish-speaking physicians right away and knew I could make a difference in the care of my community. 

What is it like being a Hispanic woman and/or Latina in medicine? 

During my undergraduate education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I joined a pre-medical group for Hispanic or Latino/x students. This group provided me with the additional support of peers to reach my goals as a pre-medical student and introduced me to the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) and the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA). I was able to network with physicians and medical students at the national and regional conferences. As I did not have family in the healthcare field, these organizations provided me with much needed mentorship in achieving success in applying to medical school. The medical students at the time were very inviting and encouraged me to participate in regional and national activities. I remained at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine – Rockford where I became passionate about caring for the underserved population and building STEM pipelines with local elementary and high schools. During medical school I was elected as the LMSA Midwest Regional Co-President and shortly thereafter became the LMSA National President.

Joining a student organization helped nurture my personal growth as an aspiring physician but also made it apparent I was not alone in my struggle to achieve my goals. It has undeniably shaped who I am as a Latina physician. It has instilled in me the passion for service, advocacy, and mentorship. I used these lessons every day in my role of pediatrician as I continue to serve the underserved and provide mentorship through my participation with NHMA and as clinical faculty at my alma mater. It has also led me to create Latinos in Pediatrics LLC which endeavors to highlight Latino/x physician leaders and health topics that may disproportionately affect our communities. Being a Latina physician is a reward every day- we may be a minority in medicine, but we are mighty. 

What advice do you have for young women who may be on the path to medicine? 

My strongest recommendation to any aspiring and accomplished Latina physician is to find like minded peers to build you up, AKA “your tribe.” Joining an organization such as American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) is an excellent way to do that. A question that is never asked is always left answered. Use these programs that exist to ask questions on how to apply to medical school, become involved in research, and find a mentor to help guide you in such endeavors. Never let your doubts get in the way of your dreams. 

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Thank you so much to the physicians listed above for taking the time to provide us with their background and advice. This year has brought so many challenges for everyone, and we wanted to take the time to highlight the work of Hispanic women/Latina physicians in the field currently, while also inspiring those with similar backgrounds who are on the same path. Representation matters– yesterday, today, and always. Here at AMWA, we will continue to advocate for women in medicine. Be sure to check out their social media highlights over at @amwapremed on Instagram! 

Alexandra Alvarez

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