Since 1968, National Hispanic Heritage Month has been recognized by the federal government and celebrated across the United States annually, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to acknowledge the history, culture, and contributions of Americans whose ancestry can be traced to over 20 countries in Latin America, including Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. There are approximately 60 million people residing in the U.S. representing approximately 18% of the population, who have ancestries connected to these countries.
Southern California University of Health Sciences (SCU) and SCU Health join in celebrating this annual commemoration as part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion and our ongoing efforts to increase the representation of Hispanics, and others from populations underrepresented in medicine, who serve our community as healthcare providers.
“Reflecting diversity in healthcare providers is important since we live in a globalized community with multiple points of view, ethnic backgrounds, and races. Is important that the healthcare providers reflect understanding of cultural diversity to have stronger communication and empathy with their patients and coworkers. We should move into a space that we are able to talk to each other with empathy and understanding of the things that makes us different by focusing on the things that makes us the same,” says Xavier Ramirez, DC, SCU Health chiropractor.
“Studies have consistently shown that diversity impacts quality of learning for all students, driving innovation, critical thinking, and preparing youth to become future leaders with capacity to tackle the complex problems our society and interconnected world faces,” says David Emiliano Zapata Maldonado, LACC Academic Support Coordinator. “It also improves economic and career opportunities for marginalized communities that are critically needed in an increasingly inequitable world. In my 33 years of higher education experience, I have not just seen the power of diversity work for the betterment of the institutions I have studied and worked at, but I have seen over and over again, the impact of engaged students from diverse learning environments, who go on to do great things with their degrees, in the communities they serve.”
“Diversity in healthcare education is important for us as health science students because it contributes to a space where all students feel they have intrinsic worth, not despite their differences but because of their differences,” says SCU LACC DC Student Angelica Robles. “As students, we must actively work to create meaningful change regardless of the history of injustice that has stigmatized underrepresented groups within our community.”
For SCU LACC DC student, Karina Miller, the diversity she’s experienced in her health sciences education is rewarding, “seeing that there are so many other students who look or share the same culture of being proud Latino/a’s has advanced my drive into creating a better world for everyone in the community. And it has also helped me realize how much progress still needs to be made for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) populations, and how all of our integrative healthcare professions work together to make a difference in the community. Seeing that even the faculty want to help us reach our goal of helping everyone strengthens the motivation to keep going in the program, and even try harder.”
“Diversity in health care benefits students and their future patients,” says Erica A. Gomez, DMSc, MPAP, PA-C, Assistant Professor, Master of Science: Physician Assistant Program. Exposure to diversity early in their careers helps students develop a better understanding of cultural values and traditions, which may affect the manner in which the patient responds to suggested treatment plans. Diversity enhances the learning experience of students because all healthcare providers in California and the majority of the United States, will encounter individuals from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds during their careers.”
PA Gomez is the first of her immediate and extended family to attend college and the only one in the extended family to attend graduate school. “I fondly remember the day I shared my interest in healthcare with my mother at the young age of 5 or 6 years. She encouraged my dreams, telling me to “go all the way to the top. Be a Doctor, never settle for the minimum goals.” When the time came to choose my career path, Physician Assistant became the best choice for me, and I have never regretted my choice. I am excited to see a growing number of Latinx students on campus, every year. The first year I taught here there were only one or two Latinx students in the class. Most recently there is a greater percentage of the class that better reflects the diversity of Southern California.”
For Karina Miller, being “born and raised in Pomona, California, there were hardly any healthcare providers that influenced my journey to become a chiropractor. Seeing the lack of Hispanic health care worker made me want to be the first in my family and community. Seeing that 5.8% of chiropractors are Hispanic was the inspiration that made me want to pursue chiropractic aid to all types of communities.”
“Equity and social justice are critical to our healthcare system and the well-being of our society, says Maldonado. “This has to be operationalized through initiatives which maximize the benefits of diversity in higher education. With an increasingly diverse healthcare industry and workforce, we are able to provide bi/multilingual and culturally sensitive healthcare that is necessary for effective and relevant healthcare.”
“Bilingual and culturally sensitive healthcare services can very easily be medically necessary as it is critical, even life/death, for patients to be able to communicate clearly with their healthcare providers,” says Maldonado. Maldonado has mentored countless diverse undergraduate students throughout his 33-year career in higher education. “Every step of the way I’ve worked with BIPOC students, colleagues and mentors. One of my earliest mentors is UCLA Professor David Hayes-Bautista. His seminal book (as a co-author) “Burden of Support: Latinos in an Aging Society” remains a compelling argument for understanding the role the Latinx community will play in the well-being of all California for generations to come.”
For PA Gomez, “being fluent in Spanish and semi-fluent in Portuguese is an invaluable skill to have in Southern California to be able to fully communicate and understand my patients without the need for a translator. I see the gratitude in my patient’s faces when I speak to them in their native language and see how the patient immediately relaxes and participates more in their own care.”
For Angelica Robles, she says that “growing up, I was always taught to be proud of my Mexican roots and be of service to others. I believe I was drawn to pursuing a career as a healthcare provider. I love bringing smiles and a sense of relief to patients’ faces when they hear me speaking in their native tongue. It’s an unbreakable bond of trust that is created to ensure that they are in the best care. With the high percentage of Hispanics living in LA county, I feel that it is my duty to represent and care for my people and the entire community. I want to become access and a leader by example in improving care for vulnerable populations and encourage family physicians of all races and ethnicities to also care for patients in these groups.”
SCU has several ways for students to enhance their academic, professional, and social development through involvement in one or more of the 20+ established Student Clubs on campus to gain experience, create meaningful relationships, network, and grow skills and knowledge. Angelica Robles says that “there are many clubs such as Spanish Medical Terminology (currently inactive), the World Congress of Chiropractic Students club, and the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association, to name a few, which are great ways to get involved and gain a lot of exposure filled with the opportunity to meet people of various backgrounds and ensure that we all have support to perform to the fullest of our abilities. We should all feel a sense of belonging in any environment and getting involved on campus is a great foot in the door.”
“I have realized that all of my career aspirations have something in common, which is to serve my community,” says Angelica Robles. SCU and SCU Health are also dedicated to service to the community. Just after Hispanic Heritage Month, the next SCU Health Tent Event will be held Saturday, Oct. 22, from 1-4 p.m., on campus. SCU Health hosts free Tent Event outreach clinic in a continuing effort to serve the community with integrative healthcare services, increase the awareness of integrative healthcare benefits, and provide students with patient treatment and clinical experience. The clinics are free of charge, and all students and the public are invited. Spread the word, and invite a friend!
From all of us at SCU, happy Hispanic Heritage Month! Locally, from food to cultural events—Secret Los Angeles lists 30 Perfect Ways To Celebrate Latinx Heritage Month Around Los Angeles, all incredible ways to honor Latinx/o/a’s and our fellow Angelenos amid Hispanic Heritage Month, and beyond!