Living in a rural home in Rio Grande City in Texas, at the age of 13 y/o, Veronica Palomino decided that she wanted to become a doctor. The only problem with that idea was that it seemed impossible to everybody around her. There were no female doctors in Rio Grande City and nobody in Veronica’s family has even gone to College, so nobody could really “see” this happening.
But it happened. Even though Veronica was discouraged many times, not only by people at her school or her community but also by her loved ones, who were giving the best advice they could, Veronica persisted and got her bachelors from The University of Texas. Today after overcoming many challenges and noes, she has taken on a mission to make the journey a little bit easier for other Latinas.
Although Hispanics make up almost 18% of the US population, they only represent a fraction of the physician workforce. While the number of Hispanic applicants to medical school has increased over the recent years, the percentage who enroll or graduate from medical school it’s still deficient and when it comes to female Hispanic students, the numbers are even lower. The reasons are many: the complexity of the process of getting into medical school, the cost, the lack of role models or someone who can motivate them to get into the field, and even cultural reasons.
The reality is simple: Latinos are underrepresented in the medical workforce, and that becomes an issue for the community as a whole because Latinos are more likely to seek medical treatment and speak openly about their health issues if they feel understood not only regarding language but also regarding culture.
Understanding this, and equipped with her professional and personal experience, Veronica organized a group of professionals who are now the members of “Latinas in Medicine” (LIM). This is a nonprofit based in San Diego, with a very specific mission: “Inspiring, guiding, and empowering Latinas who choose careers in medicine”. The nonprofit is supported by community partners like UC San Diego and “Medical Pathway”, a San Ysidro High School program that recruits students in local middle schools then guides them through four years of medically-focused science classes, beginning with anatomy and physiology.
The “Latinas in Medicine’s” formula is to guide and support students interested in the medical field, all the way from High School to the day they graduate, from the doctoral program of their choice (medical, dental, pharmacy, etc).
But this organization is not exclusive to women. During their kickoff event at San Ysidro High School (located less than 2 miles away from Tijuana), on last June 28, the Chairman of LIM, Dr. Ramon Hernandez, spoke about the importance of diversity in the professional healthcare workforce: “Working with young women, working with young Latinas, is something that we need to support. Men have a responsibility to make sure that doors are as wide open as possible for women who want to enter the medical field. There has been a privilege because of race and also because of gender within the field, and it is part of what we have to start equalizing.”
Claire Saetia, Medical Coordinator of the “Medical Pathway” program, points out a fact that is a discouragement to students by the law. “San Ysidro High School is over 90% Hispanic every year, and as a science teacher, having the District only requiring 2 years of science, it’s very frustrating and it’s challenging to convince the kids to take four years of science, when in California the majority of jobs that are unfilled are due to unqualified people. So we want to encourage our kids to not be scared of these STEM careers and in contrast, understand that it will benefit them, and that’s why we support them to take 4 years of science.”
During the same event, students from the “Medical Pathway” program, shared their excitement about being in the medical field and feeling supported. “I know it sounds cheesy, but I just like helping people, and I know that this is a good way to get involved in the process. It’s very hands-on, and I would like to be able to use that and my interest in science to help other people feel good”, says Abril Meza Galindo.
Valerie Montoya, whose biggest dream is to become an anesthesiologist, says that, “‘Latinas in Medicine’ is a great way to get involved in the field and also to get some experience and mentorship from people who have actually worked in this field and have gone through the whole process that you are about to go through.”
Charleen Santoyo explained that she started thinking about becoming a doctor, after visiting hospitals multiple times due to health issues in her family. “I felt fascinated about their work, and I knew that I wanted to be one of them. I think that the most important thing doctors do for their patients is making them feel safe and giving them hope, and I also want to do that.”
To learn more about their work or get involved, visit their website: https://www.latinasinmedicine.org