Embodying Family and Community: MCW Latino Medical Student Association Wins Regional Award and Earns National Service Recognition

Embodying family and community: MCW Latino Medical Student Association wins regional award and earns national service recognition

Ask Ana Maria Viteri, co-president of the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Latino Medical Student Association (MCW-LMSA), to characterize the organization’s purpose, and she answers without hesitation.

“We truly embody a sense of family and community,” she shares. The organization’s executive board – composed of nine student leaders – has built a family dynamic, according to Viteri, as they work together to improve the health of Hispanic and Latinx communities in Milwaukee and beyond.

From mentoring middle school and high school students, organizing meetings in local churches and in the community to help increase vaccination rates for COVID-19, and hosting film screenings to raise awareness for Latina reproductive rights and a virtual enchilada cooking class fundraiser, the organization has provided creative volunteer opportunities throughout the last year. Their focus on mentorship, community outreach, and education has forged strong connections between MCW and local Latinx communities.

Now, their efforts have put MCW’s LMSA chapter on the map. At the LMSA Midwest Annual Regional Conference in February 2022, MCW-LMSA was selected out of 28 active chapters as the LMSA Midwest Chapter of the Year. MCW-LMSA also received the LMSA National Service Award, which recognized their service at the LMSA national level as the chapter with the second highest reported service across the US.

MCW LMSA students sitting on the stairs

Growing Latinx Representation in Health Care

Viteri, who will represent MCW as the incoming chief information officer for LMSA Midwest, and Laura Carrillo, MCW-LMSA’s co-community outreach chair, say the club has grown in recent years, which reflects MCW’s commitment to representation.

“We are happy to see a growing number of Hispanic and Latinx individuals as incoming MCW students each year, reflecting the growth of these populations across the country. Having physicians with similar backgrounds as their patients is extremely important for community health and outreach,” Carrillo says. She points to MCW’s pipeline programs, like the Diversity Summer Health-Related Research Education Program (DSHREP), Apprenticeship in Medicine (AIM), Research Opportunity for Academic Development in Science (ROADS), and the Student Enrichment Program for Underrepresented Professions (StEP-UP), as evidence of MCW’s commitment to recruitment and retention of students who are underrepresented in medicine. Continuing that trend by inspiring Latinx youth to pursue advanced degrees has been central to LMSA’s volunteer work this year, Carrillo shares.

“Together with my co-chair, Raquel Valdes, we organized events connecting MCW medical students with high schoolers at St. Augustine Preparatory Academy,” she explains. “Volunteers provided mentorship, helped with lab assignments, and gave them insight into how the science they are learning in school is used in the real world.”

Carrillo and Valdes are also leading five events in April for middle school students from Bruce-Guadalupe Middle School to provide them with early exposure to the medical field.

“We want these students to see themselves in us and hear about how we got to where we are now,” Carrillo says. “We hope to inspire them to apply to college and even graduate or medical school someday and spark their interest in the STEM fields. We’ve emphasized the importance of investing in their education.”

Connecting with the Latinx Community

MCW-LMSA was also recognized for their significant work in community health during the pandemic. When they noted that the underserved Latinx community was disproportionately affected by the pandemic, Carrillo, Valdes, and third-year medical student, Jose Gomez, assembled a grant proposal for mask distributions. The MCW-LMSA board partnered with United Community Center (UCC), a nonprofit on Milwaukee’s south side, on the project “Venciendo la Pandemia con la Vacuna” (Beating the Pandemic with the Vaccine) to provide vaccine information to the community.

“We supported UCC at their events, but we also went to churches, which are strong cultural institutions in the community,” Viteri explains. LMSA gave talks about the COVID-19 vaccine at local churches, back to school fairs, and summer festivals. In these events, the LMSA team talked with community members and passed out masks and vaccine literature.

“Many of our LMSA members are from the south side of Milwaukee. Once the community saw we were speaking in Spanish and giving them honesty and respect, it built trust. The barriers come down when people see a doctor who understands and respects them,” Viteri shares. “It made us stand out and created a positive impact.”

MCW LMSA students standing in the Hub Building

Making a Home at MCW

While building trust and support through local community health endeavors is a priority for LMSA, so is building a culture of support within the MCW-LMSA community itself. Second-year LMSA students mentor first-year MCW medical students, supporting them through the challenges of medical school. This is crucial for students who are underrepresented in medicine, Viteri says.

“The board created a series called ‘Café con Leche,’ where we replicated the environment of sitting down with a loved one for a cup of coffee to destress,” she explains. “We discussed topics like how to thrive in medical school and maintain balance, or what to do if you fail an exam and ways to be vulnerable and honest about those struggles.” Raquel Valdes, MCW-LMSA’s co-community outreach chair, says the support is invaluable to incoming students.

“To succeed in medical school and beyond, you truly need a village of people supporting you and guiding you,” she notes. “That is what LMSA provides to many of its members.”

Jessie Duarte served as co-president on MCW-LMSA’s board and says building up its members as future physicians has been a strategic priority of his for the club since he benefited from community support as a new student.

“LMSA provided a sense of community when I needed it most. Being new to the Milwaukee area and the world of medical school came with challenges. I was able to navigate and overcome those with the guidance of MCW-LMSA members,” he shares. “As co-president, one of my goals for the organization was to help incoming students with the challenges they may face. As I move on from this role, I see how much LMSA helped me grow, and I cannot wait to continue giving back to underserved communities."

As Viteri moves on from her role as co-president and into her role on LMSA Midwest’s leadership board, she says she is grateful for the opportunities the board had in bringing the MCW community together and bringing national recognition to the local community work in Milwaukee.

“I plan to continue being involved in LMSA at the regional level and hope to become a leader in medicine for my community,” she says. “MCW-LMSA has granted us the opportunity to elevate MCW so it is recognized for leadership in community health, education, and mentorship. LMSA is a strong presence at MCW, and we welcome allies from any background to join us on this journey.”

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