Scholarships for Future Latino Doctors

Students will be able to realize their dream to become healthcare professionals

By Yurina Melara Valiulis, La Opini??n
Published on LatinoLA: November 15, 2011

Scholarships for Future Latino Doctors

Gaspar Rivera, 29, is the oldest of four brothers and their father is a construction worker. Not only is Gaspar the first doctor in the family, but he's the first in his family to attend college.

There are many obstacles for Latinos that choose a career in the health industry. Half of Latino students do not graduate from high school and even fewer complete higher education degrees. Nationally, Latinos account for 5% of physicians, 3% of dentists and 2% of the nurses.

"I want to help Latinos; advocate for their health and help them live better. When I finish my studies, my goal is to return to the community that needs so much help," said Rivera.

This future doctor is in his last year of medical school at the University of California, Irvine, and is also studying for a Masters in Public Health from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His plan is to not only have direct contact with Latino patients, but also to develop health programs that will even benefit the people that cannot attend his practice.

Rivera, like 14 other Latino students from different universities in California, received a grant from the National Hispanic Health Foundation, during a ceremony at a hotel in Santa Monica last Thursday night.

Dr. Elena Rios, President of the Foundation, stressed the importance of educating Latino students for different health careers to meet the needs of their communities.

"In the next generation of Latinos, one in four people in the country will be Latinos. We must prepare our young people, give them the help and support that they need, so they can get the education they deserve," said Dr. Rios .

She noted that obstacles are often found within their own families. Many parents do not support and encourage the need for their children to go to college and choose careers that require a lot of time and effort, such as medicine.

"Sometimes families do not realize that the more prepared children are, the more opportunities they will have in life ... sometimes the parents want their children to work early in their lives to help the family economically, or sometimes parents do not understand the effort needed for young people to continue with their studies. This affects the students," said Rios.

It is common to find academics who, themselves, have received support from their parents, like Osvaldo Amezcua, a dental student at UC San Francisco and who also received a NHHF scholarship. He has seven siblings, his father worked in the fruit and vegetable crops, in Salinas, and says that, although the family is large and the money is tight, his parents always supported his continuing studies.

Other students, like Gabriela Valencia, have decided to return to college because they see the tremendous need in the Latino community. This young lady was a volunteer at a free clinic in Redwood, California, one day a month. Her job was to serve as a translator because of the lack of bilingual medical staff.

"I have witnessed the enormous need for bilingual nurses and doctors. In addition to staff who speak Spanish, we need staff that understand our culture and can guide patients," she said. Valencia, who is studying nursing at UC San Francisco, also received one of the scholarships.

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