Hispanic Heritage Month continues

Sept. 23, 2013 College News - In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the Medical College of Wisconsin is creating a series of video vignettes and stories that will be posted on InfoScope.  The vignettes highlight some of the Hispanic and Latino members of the MCW community and the contributions they have made.  The stories highlight MCW programs that improve the health of underserved populations (including Hispanic and Latino), offer these populations improved access to health care and education, and reduce health disparities.

All of the vignettes and stories will be added to the College’s Hispanic Heritage Month 2013 Web page as they are published.

National Hispanic Heritage Month was created to celebrate the cultures, histories and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Portugal, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. Most heritage months take place within a particular calendar month, but Hispanic Heritage Month is held over parts of two months to incorporate significant dates within the Hispanic community: Sept. 15, which is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua; Sept. 16, which is the anniversary of Mexico’s independence; Sept. 18, which is the anniversary of Chile’s independence; Sept. 21, which is the anniversary of Belize’s independence; and Oct. 12, which is Columbus Day. Columbus Day celebrates the day in 1492 when Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus discovered America.

Student programs

The Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) at the Medical College of Wisconsin is a student-run organization whose goals are to increase the public knowledge about the Latino culture, provide a support network for minority medical students and help improve the well-being of the local Latino community through service and health education. The LMSA at MCW is constantly growing and evolving, becoming more involved every year, as seen by the increased membership and community outreach.

Currently, the LMSA at MCW provides much of its services through a facility on the south side of Milwaukee called the United Community Center. Through this relationship, the members of the LMSA have been able to mentor young adults with programs such as “What It Takes To Get Into Medical School: An Insider’s Perspective,” during which medical students talk informally about the path from high school to medical school. In addition, the LMSA members volunteer at many of the UCC’s annual events such as Noche de Gala, which raises money for the Latino Strings Program.

Other activities that the LMSA at MCW organizes includes Spanish “Conversessions,” where medical students can learn Spanish over lunch, and the Salsa Night Social, in which the LMSA members gather to learn more about Latino culture.  The LMSA also provides Spanish interpreters for health fairs. 

Puerto Rican Student Loan Fund
The MCW Puerto Rican Student Loan Fund was established in 1996 by Eli A Ramirez, MD, and his wife, Betty Ramirez, for Puerto Rican students who demonstrate need, have academic merit, and meet one or more of the criterion of the College’s diversity policy.  This fund also includes contributions from other Medical College of Wisconsin alumni originating from Puerto Rico.  The loan is fixed at a low interest rate and is interest-free throughout the recipient’s schooling and medical residency. 

The Center for AIDS Intervention Research (CAIR) at MCW is currently conducting studies which seek to reduce HIV/AIDS disparities in Hispanic and Latino communities.

Exploring a peer-led strategy to link recent Latino immigrants to HIV testing
In a National Institute of Mental Health-funded study, Laura Glasman, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, is collaborating with the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center to increase access to voluntary HIV counseling and testing (VCT) services among recent Latino immigrant men. In the United States, Latino immigrant men adopt risky practices and become disproportionally affected by HIV in terms of incidence, rates of undiagnosed infections, and access to treatment. This vulnerability has been attributed to factors that also hamper their access to venue-based and outreach HIV prevention efforts, including unawareness of HIV risk and HIV-related stigma. This project explores the feasibility of promoting VCT among Latino immigrant men using their social connections. The project also endeavors to identify factors that increase the efficacy of this method to reach at-risk immigrants who would not otherwise have accessed VCT. Findings of this study will inform an enhanced peer chain referral strategy to engage hard-to-reach recent Latino immigrant men in VCT. If successful, this strategy will help to identify undiagnosed HIV-positive immigrants and initiate opportunities to provide prevention counseling, facilitate contact with health services, and encourage discussions on HIV within Latino immigrants’ networks.

Structural and Social Contexts of Substance Use, Violence and HIV Risk among Adolescent Gangs
Julia Dickson-Gomez, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, directs a CAIR research team that is carrying out a four-year study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to explore the role of gangs and environmental factors on gang members’ sexual activity, drug use, and violence. The project will interview members of African American and Latino gangs in Milwaukee in order to understand factors that influence substance use and high-risk sexual behavior, with a particular focus on social contexts and settings that contribute to risk. Study results will be used to develop a multilevel prevention intervention program that targets multiple social health problems among adolescents involved in gang activities.

Dr. Dickson-Gomez also is involved in Project Encuentro, a National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)-funded five-year study that implements and tests the efficacy of a multi-level community-based HIV prevention intervention for crack users in San Salvador, El Salvador. Project Encuentro consists of:

1) Social network HIV testing

2) Peer Network Interventions among crack users.

Both aim to increase HIV testing rates and to decrease sexual risk behavior among crack users. The project will test the combined effects of the intervention components on HIV sexual risk and testing behavior through an interrupted time-series analysis including multiple cross-sectional surveys timed before and after implementation of each component, and numbers of HIV tests per month in community testing sites over time. The project will also explore community and organizational factors that affect implantation of the project through in-depth interviews and observations.