Cultivating success: Spotlight on the Latinx Pre-Health Society at UMD
Updated: Oct 8
Written by: Angelina Santos 🇵🇷
The Latinx Pre-Health Society (LPHS) may be relatively new to the University of Maryland, but it is already providing a safe space for Pre-Health Latinos on campus. Founded just about a year ago by Senior Kinesiology major Carlos Valencia, the organization started out with the intention to empower the next generation of Latinx healthcare professionals.
As the organization became official just last semester, and now boasts around 50 active members, their goal is to create a supportive environment for the Latinx community and contribute to further success in healthcare.
Data shows that Latinos are underrepresented nationally in the medical field sitting at just 5.8 percent of active physicians.
“Especially here at UMD, we already make up a minority within a minority. At least in my experience, I walk into these huge lecture halls and I don't really see a lot of people that look like me…But for a lot of pre health students - or Hispanic, or Latinx identifying [pre-health] students, we kind of never really had community here,” said Co-President of LPHS, Rashel Moscoso-Morales
Despite these challenges the members of LPHS get together to tackle these issues. Their meetings vary in topic, sometimes doing pre-med workshops or themed social hours. Most recently, they held a workshop to learn important medical terms in Spanish. Information on their events or meetings can typically be found on their Instagram.
The lack of representation in the industry takes its toll on students on a career path that already poses great barriers of entry.
“The field itself can be really discouraging. There's a lot of discouraging people that will tell you not to pursue careers in health care. It's really hard to find mentors from our similar backgrounds so we’re really just here to just help each other out, and change the face of medicine,” said Moscoso-Morales. She is not alone in this feeling.
Valencia interned at the John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore this past summer, and shared his experience with being a minority in the field.
“The NIH is known to have the brightest people working together to find new cures, new treatments, and just working groundbreaking research, but I looked around and there wasn't a lot of people that looked Latino… People traveled the world just to work at this one building, and for some reason Latinos weren’t around.”
Hispanic students remain underrepresented in STEM degree programs, despite the recent growth of students earning a bachelor's degree in the field. Data shows that in 2010, 8% of Latino graduates had a STEM degree compared to 12% in 2018.
“I was just like I'm sure that out of the smartest people in the world there are Latinos that are just as smart, who are working in groundbreaking research. I was confused, and I looked at other interns and I was the only Latino there out of my whole cohort and it made me feel a type of way said Valencia. “Almost as if Latinos weren’t good enough to work at the NIH, or were not smart enough for groundbreaking research, or to be involved. Especially when we were finding research that has to do with not only the US, but the world.” he added.
Those that have recently joined share similar sentiments about the industry and importance of the organization.
“It’s very weird, just being the only Latina in my classes. I wish it was more.” shared recent member Gina Melendez, a Junior Public Health Science major. “I guess it’s kind of sad because I know a lot of Hispanics want to go to school but they can’t. I hope there’s better resources for them to go.” she added.
Latinx Pre Health Society hopes to build a bridge between these gaps, by being a resource within the university for Latinx students.
Going forward, LPHS hopes to provide their members with more mentorships since they recently connected with the Maryland School of Medicine’s Latino Medical Student Association. They also want to increase efforts in reaching out to the community surrounding the University of Maryland as well. Moscoso-Morales emphasized a desire to increase the organization's outreach.
Whether that reach is growing the organization, or taking their members into PG County to do some community service in the health industry, the Latinx Pre Health Society sees no signs of slowing down.
The encouragement from the organization towards diversifying the face of medicine yields results, and through her time volunteering at COVID-19 vaccine clinics, Moscoso-Morales has already seen the impact of being Latina in the field.
“In a lot of the patients that we got, I would see my parents in them. So it was like flashbacks to when I was like eight-years-old translating for my parents in the doctor's office. There’s just like a sense of home, like oh wow I can actually make a difference for people that look like me, that come from similar places as me.”
With this same sentiment in mind, the Latinx Pre-Health Society at the University of Maryland gets together hoping to provide a comforting pipeline into healthcare careers for their members.
To contact or join the Latinx Pre-Health Society feel free to check:
Instagram - @ umdlphs