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Advocates for Change in Latino Healthcare

Geisel School of Medicine is known for its inclusive, tight-knit community and rural environment—a compelling pairing that offers unique opportunities to aspiring physicians. Yet for Adrianna Stanley ’18 and Fernando (Freddy) Vazquez ’18, there was something missing.

“When Freddy and I were looking at medical schools, one thing we valued and were looking for was a strong Latino community,” Stanley recalls. “When we came to Dartmouth we knew there were Latinos here, but a strong, cohesive community wasn’t evident, nor was there a Latino Medical Student Association Northeast (LMSA-NE) chapter.”

In spite of that perceived deficit, Vazquez and Stanley chose to attend Geisel and during their first year they established an LMSA-NE chapter at the school. They reasoned other prospective Latino medical students shared their interests and Stanley says they wanted to reach out to those considering Geisel to dispel concerns about the dearth of Spanish-speaking patients in the Upper Valley.

“In reality, we have a large migrant worker population here and a student-run clinic that interacts with them regularly—and Geisel also offers a medical Spanish elective,” Vazquez notes. “Dartmouth has a lot to offer. Being part of the LMSA gives Geisel an additional opportunity to continue building diversity and to dispel misconceptions,” Stanley adds. Geisel is the only rural medical school in the northeast LMSA and the only school offering migrant healthcare opportunities to medical students.

“I think this is sending a very clear message to everyone about how inclusive Dartmouth is and about the opportunities there are for minority Latino students and faculty who might not readily see their population represented or their culture reflected in the population here,” he says.

Because Geisel’s LMSA-NE chapter is barely more than a year old, Stanley and Vazquez are surprised by how quickly prospective Latino medical students are reaching out to them, asking to meet for coffee to talk about what it’s like at Dartmouth.

But this is exactly what the duo wants to encourage.

“It’s why we started the LMSA-NE chapter,” Vazquez says, “to shed light on the fact that Dartmouth has a lot to offer the growing Latino community.”

LMSA-logoTheir passion, dedication, and hard work have paid off. On February 20, Geisel is hosting the LMSA 43rd Annual Northeast Regional Conference. Organized around the healthcare needs of the Latino community, the event is bringing together medical students, high school and college students interested in health care careers, and practicing physicians. Though anyone interested in healthcare needs of the growing Latin American population is welcome. This is the first time Dartmouth is hosting an event of this magnitude addressing Hispanic health.

According to Stanley, the dearth of physicians in minority demographics is well known and the issues relating to it are neither discriminatory nor malicious. “It’s more about being uncomfortable when reaching out to people who are different either through language, appearance, or culture,” Vazquez adds. “And the difference, rather than the clinical care, often remains in the foreground.”

She says their goal for the conference is to make people aware of this issue and to strengthen the doctor-patient relationship through cultural competency.

“We have something for each of our target populations—workshops and panels on the healthcare needs of the Latino community, student leadership training, healthcare policy, ethnomedicine and cultural competency in practice, the role of underrepresented minorities in academic medicine, and networking events, among others,” Vazquez says.

Nearly all of the conference speakers have a connection to Dartmouth, either as faculty or as practicing physicians at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “We chose them for their work in and their commitment to the Latino population,” Stanley says.

Stanley and Vazquez have dedicated the conference to the memories of Dr. Arnold Katz, a beloved mentor of Geisel medical students, and Chris Pluta, a mentor of Vazquez’s and countless Latino high school students in Chicago. “It only takes one person to tell you that you can make it,” Vazquez says.

First and foremost, the message Stanley and Vazquez want people to take away from the conference is that there is a Latino community at Geisel and it is something Dartmouth cares about. “The school has been supporting us every step of the way,” Stanley says. “And we also want to show the Latino community what Geisel has to offer.”

“A year ago, this organization didn’t exist and now we are hosting a conference for more than 200 people,” Vazquez says. “But it’s not about us—people can enact change wherever they are. If they have the passion and they think something is just, they should advocate for it even if they are students.”