Two Albert Einstein College of Medicine students—one now interviewing for her residency program and another just a few months into his medical school education—have each won a $5,000 scholarship from the National Hispanic Health Foundation (NHHF) for demonstrating academic excellence, leadership, and a commitment to providing healthcare to Latino patients and communities. The winners are fourth-year student Veronica Ortiz, who also won the NHHF scholarship in 2018 and 2019, and first-year student Daniel Alicea.
They join a select group of 34 students enrolled in graduate health programs across the country who were chosen to receive the scholarship this year, announced Nov. 19 by the NHHF, which is part of the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), a nonprofit organization that represents 50,000 licensed Hispanic physicians in the United States and is a partner organization of the National Institutes of Health. Since the scholarship program was launched in 2004, NHHF has given more than 280 awards to outstanding Latino health professional students.
Serving the Latino Community
“I am committed to Latino health,” says Ms. Ortiz, who is now interviewing for her pediatric residency at hospitals in the Northeast. “I speak the same language. I know the culture because I have lived it too. My mom came to the United States from Colombia when she was young and raised me on her own. She is from a large family, and they didn’t completely trust doctors and didn’t understand their role.”
Ms. Ortiz says what drew her to medicine was a pipeline program she participated in after her freshman year in college. That summer she shadowed physicians in New York City who identified as underrepresented in medicine. “I saw doctors who were like me, who had the same struggles. It inspired me,” she says.
After gaining a master’s degree in health science from Johns Hopkins University and doing clinical research in a pediatric genetics department for a year, she was admitted to several medical schools but chose Einstein, in part because of its mission to promote the health of underserved communities.
She started volunteering as an interpreter at the Einstein Community Health Outreach (ECHO) clinic, one of the nation’s first student-run clinics that provides free care to patients without insurance, many of whom are not eligible because of their immigration status. She later trained other ECHO interpreters. She has been active in the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) for the past three years, first serving as president of Einstein’s chapter and now as part of the LMSA’s Northeast Regional Board.
A Focus on Health Disparities
Scholarship winner Daniel Alicea has just started his medical school journey, but he is already focused on health disparities and what he can do as a future physician to change that. “I am interested in how we can eradicate health disparities among Latinos as well as people of color in general,” he says.
Mr. Alicea, whose family is from Puerto Rico, was born and educated in the Bronx, graduating from Cardinal Spellman High School and Fordham University. He participated in Einstein’s Summer Undergraduate Mentorship Program in 2016, which was his first exposure to medicine. “I learned about mentorship, shadowing, and how to create the components of a medical research paper. It was a great experience,” he says.
After obtaining a master’s degree in nutrition from Columbia University and working for a year as a researcher at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, he applied to 26 medical schools. Einstein was his top choice.
Going to medical school in a pandemic so far has meant a mix of in-person, socially distanced classes (while wearing face masks and goggles) and remote learning, he says. Like Ms. Ortiz he has volunteered at the ECHO clinic as an interpreter, and he has served as a mentor for pre-health students through the NHMA and as a Bronx Community Health Leader at the Montefiore Family Health Center.
The Importance of Mentorship
While looking for scholarships to help with the cost of medical school, both Ms. Ortiz and Mr. Alicea say they found help from Juan Robles, M.D. ’11, an assistant professor of family and social medicine at Einstein, an attending physician at Montefiore, and a native of Honduras, who encouraged them to apply for the NHHF award and wrote letters of recommendation for each of them.
“It is an honor to be part of their educational journey,” Dr. Robles says. “Veronica and Daniel are a testament to the American dream and role models for the next generation of dreamers. As a Latinx physician, I am beyond excited to celebrate their recognition and achievements. I have no doubt that they will be an asset to our Latino community and will care for patients with dignity and respect.”
Ms. Ortiz says this fall she took Dr. Robles’ new elective, “Care of Latino Patients and Communities,” and participated in his family medicine clinic. There, she heard from various physicians about what it means to be a Latino patient in the Bronx and the obstacles that many of those patients face.
She says she identifies with Dr. Robles because he, like her, is Latino and the first in his family to study medicine. “Mentoring has played a huge part for me,” Ms. Ortiz says. “The mentors in my life have lived through the same experiences. They have faced the same barriers my family has faced.”
Mr. Alicea agreed. “Having someone on your side is so valuable. It has helped me make the transition to medical school. I want to continue that mentorship to show others they can do this, too.”
Posted on: Thursday, December 17, 2020