JORDAN JUÁREZ, MS1
Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University
In the summer leading up to my freshman year of college, I was restless to get started. Having volunteered in my local hospital, I was eager to finally register for pre-medical courses as a rising freshman at the University of Southern California (USC). Furthermore, having balanced multiple classes and extracurriculars in high school, I assumed my schedule would be manageable. It wasn’t. I felt lost in my large lecture halls and it reflected in my grades. I felt unorganized and overwhelmed. Ashamed, I did my best to hide my academic struggles from my parents. I started to doubt that I was capable of becoming a physician.
All this changed after attending an optional on-campus presentation by a then unknown student organization: USC LMSA. While I had expected the medical student representatives to be intimidating and indifferent to the challenges of a pre-medical student, I was delightfully surprised. The students were real. They were genuine. And they cared. For once in my undergraduate career, I was able to hear from actual medical students who not only looked like me, but were also able to verbally express the unique obstacles faced by students who come from immigrant backgrounds. They mentioned that it was “okay” to have had a rough college start, and they shared how there were multiple avenues to getting into medical school. Most importantly, however, they reminded myself and my peers why it was so important not to give up and to continue the long journey of becoming a physician: to care for our Latinx community.
Later that week, I attended a meeting with a mentor of mine, the Executive Director of the USC Latino Alumni Association (LAA). Discussing the lessons that I had learned from the previous LMSA event, she shared with me that pre-medical academic struggles were in fact common among minority students, and that I was far from being the only Latinx student struggling. It was the conversation that turned my academic career around and taught me the value of turning to my community for support. Yet more importantly, it is what inspired my greatest undergraduate accomplishment: the founding of Latino Students in Medicine (LSM).
Hearing that pre-medical academic struggles were in fact common among minority students through my conversations with the LAA, I knew something had to be done. I wanted to turn my struggles into a learning opportunity for others. I founded LSM in a collaborative effort with the LAA then in order to provide mentoring for younger college students and to encourage more Latinx students to pursue a career in medicine. Because these students are uniquely positioned to care for minority and medically underserved communities, this endeavor was especially important to me. To this day, the student group currently matches freshmen and sophomores with upperclassmen who can monitor their progress throughout the year. They also host guest speakers, information sessions, and group study nights.
Following the advice and support from my many LMSA mentors, then, I was ultimately accepted to medical school. Today, I am a first-year MD/MBA student at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine (LKSOM) at Temple University in Philadelphia. And my work in the Latinx community remains as important to me as ever.
I began the year by running and ultimately being elected to serve as Temple University’s LMSA Chapter Co-President. Through a genuine group effort from our chapter’s executive board, I am happy to report that we have overseen an unprecedented growth and presence of LMSA within our medical school community. Historically, our school chapter has been relatively small and less active. However, our twelve member E-board has infused new life to the now re-energized student organization. We accomplished this by strategically implementing a tripartite, school specific mission which includes: (1) increasing the pipeline of Latinx students entering medical school, (2) improving the academic experience for current LKSOM Latinx medical students, and (3) expanding Temple’s community outreach in our North Philadelphia neighborhood.
With regards to our first first pillar, we partnered with Temple University’s undergraduate Latinx community and recently received university approval to establish a Latinx pre-health club called Salud. Through this outlet, LMSA has scheduled medical school panels and launched a mentor-mentee initiative in order to demystify the path to medical school for undergraduate students, who like myself, can easily become intimidated by the entire process. Additionally, via a revamped Ambassadors Program, LMSA currently sends LMSA members to speak to potential Temple medical students during interview days. Next, with regards to our second pillar, one aspect I noticed after having attended the 2019 LMSA Policy Summit in Washington D.C. as a then general body Temple LMSA member, was the modest presence of Temple University at such meetings (having only sent two to this particular meeting). As a result, our chapter made it a priority to increase attendance to future meetings. This past February, I am happy to report that Temple LMSA not only sent 13 students to the 47th Annual LMSA Northeast Regional Conference hosted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, but our chapter also applied and was awarded the LMSA Joseph Lopez Travel Scholarship Award in order to offset the cost of attendance for our members.
Finally, with regards to our third pillar, our chapter has strengthened Temple’s relationship with a Philadelphia-based, Latinx-focused medical clinic called Puentes de Salud. In addition to organizing medical school panels for Latinx high school students at the Esperanza College of Eastern University this year, we have also established a partnership with Temple University’s Physician Assistant Program in order to host free blood pressure and blood glucose screenings at Temple University Hospital.
As I approach the end of my first year of medical school, more and more I am reminded of the importance of diversifying the face of medicine in order to address the social determinants of health that challenge our vibrant community. In Philadelphia, the nation’s largest city without a public safety-net hospital, there are serious health inequities. In fact, the average life expectancy between our city’s more affluent neighborhoods and North Philadelphia (where there is a significant Latinx community and is merely a few miles away) can vary drastically.
All this said, our community members deserve physicians who not only speak the same language, but who also understand our backgrounds and culture. This is why both Temple LMSA and myself will remain committed to both our diverse community members and to the next generation of aspiring Latinx physicians. Being a product of LMSA and having recently been elected to serve as the new LMSA Northeast Fundraising Chair, I can wholeheartedly say that you just never know who you might inspire next...