Medical students Angie Molina, at left, and Lauren Silva, at right.

Regional conference at VCU addresses Latino issues in medicine

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When Virginia Commonwealth University medical student Angie Molina was deciding where she wanted to apply to medical school a few years ago, her list of priorities extended beyond U.S. News and World Report rankings.

“I wanted to go to a school where I felt cared about,” the 23-year-old Miami-native said. “VCU has a family care-oriented medical education program and they emphasize community service, which is what I was looking for.”

Molina, who is a first-generation American, is co-president of the VCU Latino Medical Student Association. Coming from a large Colombian family, she says the importance of family was stressed to her as she was growing up. She wanted to attend a school that reflected her values. Through LMSA, Molina met other medical students who shared similar backgrounds.

VCU was the only school where I felt like I wasn’t just a number.

“VCU was the only school where I felt like I wasn’t just a number,” LMSA co-president Lauren Silva said. Also from Miami, Silva looked for the same qualities in medical school as Molina. “When I started here, the faculty took the time to know my name and where I came from,” she said. “It felt like family.”

From Jan. 29 to 30, the VCU LMSA will host the 2016 LMSA Southeast Region Conference. Molina and Silva have been planning the conference since August. It will be the first time that VCU has hosted the regional event. “The purpose of the conference is to address Latino issues in medicine so that we are all more aware of the difficulties and successes of being Hispanic and Latino, whether you are a patient or a future health care provider,” Molina said.  

Both second-year medical students, Molina and Silva volunteer at CrossOver Healthcare Ministries, which is Virginia’s largest free health care clinic. Located in a Hispanic community in Richmond’s south side, CrossOver Healthcare Ministries provides care to many patients who only communicate in Spanish. “There is a huge Hispanic population here that is growing extremely fast,” Silva said. “Richmond is not a city where Hispanics are coming to get started and then leaving, it is a community where Hispanic people are coming to stay.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 54 million Hispanics living in the United States, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or race minority. The U.S. Hispanic population for 2060 is estimated to reach 128.8 million, constituting approximately 31 percent of the U.S. population by that date. Molina and Silva want to ensure that medical students at VCU and around the region are receiving an education that will prepare them to treat that growing population.

More than 80 people have already registered for the weekend’s conference, which will include workshops on cultural competency, medical Spanish translation, and understanding the role of traditional healers within the Hispanic culture. The conference, which will be hosted on the MCV campus, will also include a separate series of lectures aimed at prospective medical students. “VCU is very receptive toward the Hispanic community,” Molina said. “We are a welcoming school for Hispanic students.”

In addition to hosting and facilitating the conference, the VCU LMSA is active throughout the year, bringing in guest speakers on a variety of topics related to Latinos in medicine and conducting a course in medical Spanish translation. They also host a lunch once a month when health sciences students can practice speaking Spanish in a relaxed setting. In March, the organization is hosting a spring break trip to the Dominican Republic where students will help bring clean running water to small communities in the Latin American country in addition to conducting medical clinics throughout the week.

“The biggest thing is education,” Silva said of the VCU LMSA’s goals. “We hope to provide a better understanding of the Hispanic and Latino culture and to address how cultural differences can affect the way physicians treat their patients.”


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