Eager to connect with each other and learn more about improving Latino healthcare, hundreds of members of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) gathered at Albert Einstein College of Medicine on February 8 and 9 during the group’s 47th annual northeast conference.
Hosted by Einstein’s chapter of the LMSA, pre-med, medical, and graduate students, as well as physicians and scientists came together for the event, “Standing Together for Latino Healthcare (Juntos Tenemos Poder),” which was held in the Forchheimer Medical Science Building and Robbins Auditorium.
“We wanted to bring this to the Bronx,” said Bianca Ulloa, co-chair of the event and a fourth-year M.D./Ph.D. student at Einstein. “Our borough has a predominately black and Latino population, and Einstein and Montefiore are so connected to our community. We wanted students to learn about the issues that are affecting us.”
A Multitude of Volunteers
Dozens of Einstein and premed college students volunteered to help greet, register, and direct the nearly 300 attendees who came from Maine to Maryland. Some also served as workshop panelists for the two-day event, which was filled with discussions about social justice, cultural awareness, and academic success.
The packed sessions featured 40 speakers, including Larissa Avilés-Santa, M.D., M.P.H., director of Clinical and Health Services Research, part of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health, and State Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), chairman of the New York state senate’s Committee on Health.
We wanted to bring this to the Bronx. Our borough has a predominately black and Latino population, and Einstein and Montefiore are so connected to our community. We wanted students to learn about the issues affecting us.
Bianca Ulloa, LMSA event co-chair and fourth-year Einstein M.D./Ph.D. student
Students lined up on Main Street in Forchheimer to learn more from the 42 exhibitors, who came from 23 medical schools, 18 residency programs—including seven from Montefiore, Einstein’s University Hospital and academic medical center—and four organizations, including the National Board of Medical Examiners.
A Call for Action
“What does it mean to be Hispanic in 2020 and beyond?” John Paul Sanchez, M.D. (Class of 2006), M.P.H., asked the crowd during welcoming remarks. Dr. Sanchez, executive director of LMSA national and president of Building the Next Generation of Academic Physicians, cited some sobering statistics:
- Only 7 to 8% of medical students pursuing an M.D. are Hispanic, which is about half of the Hispanic representation in the U.S. population;
- Just 3 to 4% of all medical school faculty at allopathic medical schools are Hispanic; and
- Of all the M.D.-granting medical schools in the mainland United States, just one has a dean who identifies as Hispanic.
Nereida Correa, M.D. (Class of 1985), associate professor of obstetrics & gynecology and women’s health and of family and social medicine at Einstein, told the students that she wanted to make sure they are empowered to expand Latino representation in medicine. “You all have built an incredible organization. We need that energy that you bring,” she said. Dr. Correa, who is the incoming chair of the National Hispanic Medical Association, urged the students to continue to mentor younger people “who just might become the next medical student or researcher.”
The Medical Career Journey
Keynote speaker Dr. Avilés-Santa likened the journey through medical school and beyond to the El Camino pilgrimage (Camino de Santiago) through northwestern Spain, where hikers are directed by a series of yellow arrows along a 500-mile route.
She told the students to keep in mind these markers as they continue on their own paths: practicing gratitude, embracing their Latino identity, having a purpose, fostering relationships, opening doors for others, seizing opportunity, and keeping a moral commitment “to help our people get better.”
Dr. Avilés-Santa, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, told the students that sometimes people will have preconceived expectations of them based on their backgrounds, “even when we are doing what we are supposed to do. And in many instances you may have to work doubly hard to get the same level of recognition that others get. But do not let the narrative that others have created about you to become your reality. Create your own narrative.”
She gave the example of recruiting more than 16,000 Hispanic participants for the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos—the largest study of Latinos and Latino health ever devised or implemented. (Einstein is one of four study sites nationally and has enrolled and followed more than 4,000 participants.)
Dr. Aviles-Santa said many people said the task of enrolling that many Hispanic participants would be next to impossible. But she said with the help of brainstorming and weekly calls, her study got the diversity it needed. “It takes effort, it takes brainstorming, it takes teamwork, it takes thinking outside of the box, but it’s absolutely worthwhile,” Dr. Avilés-Santa said.
Choosing a Mentor, Curbing Bias
Some of the workshops, such as “Demystifying the Medical School Process,” were geared to premed students, while others, such as “How to Pick a Mentor,” were designed for medical and science students.
For the mentoring session, Einstein students and faculty offered the audience advice about where to look to create an environment of support and what worked for them. “You could be a first-generation college student,” said Maria Carrera-Haro, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of David Loeb, M.D., Ph.D.,. “Look for someone who has the same experience who can help lead you to where you are meant to be.” She told students not to rule out people just because they don’t look like themselves. “I’ve had some wonderful mentors who were not Latino,” she said.
Vanessa Almonte, M.Sc., a Ph.D. candidate at Einstein, said students should “start small. Send an email. Introduce yourself. A true mentor will be happy to help.”
An interactive workshop on implicit bias was led by Cristina Gonzalez, M.D. (Class of 2004), associate professor of medicine at Einstein and attending physician at Montefiore. She led students in an exercise designed to give them strategies to use when they come across cases of potential implicit bias while serving in their rotations or in clinics. “When you feel you are witnessing a potentially biased encounter, what do you do?” she asked. Students need to feel empowered to intervene and advocate for others, she said. “Our patients need us, and we need each other.”
Diversifying Academic Medicine
Dr. Sanchez, editor of the just-published book, Succeeding in Academic Medicine: A Roadmap for Diverse Medical Students and Residents (Springer, January 2020), led a workshop on diversifying academic medicine and the importance of developing clinician-educators.
“Faculty and senior leadership are the people who serve as interviewers for the admissions office,” he said. “These are the people who sit on the admissions committee, who advocate for applicants, who decide who gets a scholarship. These are the same faculty who determine our curriculum.
“Faculty are key to helping you appreciate your academic, personal, and professional interests and potential to succeed. And having the right people to motivate you and keep you on track is really critical,” he added.
Dr. Sanchez urged students to consider becoming involved in academic medicine, but to do that, “you must write, not just to get your story out, but you must publish in academic journals.” He said research shows that part of the reason why black, Hispanic, and Native American people are not hired to be faculty or take longer to get promoted if they are hired “is that we simply don't publish in peer-reviewed journals.”
Publishing is a concrete metric that “shows that you're successful, that you're contributing to the literature. And you don't have to publish on the effects of beta blockers or calcium channel blockers. Think about developing an educational module on the health status of Colombians or Dominicans or Peruvians. There is a space for you to write about the journey of your family and the needs of our diverse Hispanic patients.”
Think about developing an educational module on the health status of Colombians or Dominicans or Peruvians. There is a space for you to write about the journey of your family and the needs of our diverse Hispanic patients.
J.P. Sanchez, M.D. (Class of 2006)
Juan Robles, M.D. (Class of 2011), assistant professor of family and social medicine at Einstein, a primary care physician at Montefiore, and leader of the Bronx Community Health Leaders pipeline program, was among four panelists of a workshop on serving the healthcare needs of undocumented people, who often don’t go to the doctor because they lack health insurance or money to pay for services and don’t know about free services that are available to them. Dr. Robles noted that they may also fear immigration officials.
Immigration status, the panelists agreed, is an important factor in how people approach the health system. Dr. Robles urged students to consider practicing in underserved communities and to use their privileges to advocate for improvements in healthcare access. “Medical students can have such a big impact,” he said. “You have something powerful—a white coat.”
Some of the other sessions that drew students’ interest included workshops on “Affirmative Care for Trans/Gender Non-conforming Latinx,” “Medicine and Mass Incarceration,” “Safeguarding Your Mental Health,” and “Financial Planning – Avoid Drowning in Debt After Graduation.”
Building a Future
Conference co-chair Juan Vazquez, a second-year Einstein medical student, said the weekend event was “something I will never forget. It was truly special to be able to bring together so many students and physicians to our Bronx community. Healthcare disparities, the lack of diversity, and the prevalence of implicit bias in medicine are of increasing relevance., and our generation of future physicians has the potential to change things for the better. I hope those who attended left empowered knowing they can make a difference.”
Ms. Ulloa recapped one of her favorite sessions of the conference: what keynote speaker Dr. Avilés-Santa had to say about the journey through medical school. “Having gratitude, building relationships, and opening doors to the next generation—that was what this conference was about. It was also to help our students currently in or preparing to enter medical school, so that we can build a support network for each other and learn to better serve our communities.”
Posted on: Tuesday, February 25, 2020