Meet the Leaders of the College of Medicine's Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA)
By Lisa Ryan
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we took the opportunity to sit down with current Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) co-presidents Gabrielle Allred and Diana Hanif Garces to learn more about the MD candidates and their organization.
College of Medicine: Can you both tell me a bit about yourselves?
Gabrielle Allred: I went to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and studied biomedical engineering. I thought that I wanted to get a different perspective on medicine before I chose that as my path, even though I was kind of always interested in medicine. I really enjoy caring for people and I love how with medicine, you can solve a problem and heal someone and bring them back from the brink, really.
My family has been my biggest inspiration. They always pushed me toward medicine and always wanted me to do some kind of graduate education. My mom is from a family of immigrants; she’s the youngest of nine siblings and moved from Columbia when she was very young. My grandma, my abuelita, brought over all nine of the kids to live in the United States and pursue a better life. Their big focus was education. My abuelita always said she wanted to get all her kids through high school and college; that was the family’s pride and their marker of success – to be professionals in the states. All of my aunts and uncles finished college and went on to pursue graduate studies and careers in medicine, which has really inspired me to fulfill my dream of working in the medical field. They’ll say they’ve sacrificed so much for all of us to have an education and have a life, and we should all take advantage of that.
Diana Hanif Garces
Diana Hanif Garces: I went to undergrad at University of Central Florida and I majored in health sciences. I graduated 2017 and took two gap years. The first year, I served in an AmeriCorps program acting as the community health and advocacy coordinator for Florida Hospital. I would help run projects within the Central Florida area, with goals like getting the community moving and funding initiatives to put safer or healthier foods in schools. During my second gap year, I was a high school biology teacher in the Orange County public school system.
During my undergraduate education, I worked as a medical scribe in an emergency room. That’s where I got my feet wet with the whole process of being a doctor, and found that I really liked it. From there, my coursework and other opportunities shadowing physicians encouraged me to go into medicine.
COM: What made you want to join LMSA?
GA: My family inspired me to join LMSA and to pursue being a co-president. I wanted to give back to my Hispanic heritage and the community that has helped and supported me so much on my journey to medical school.
DHG: I grew up in a really Hispanic area, so I was drawn to LMSA’s mission of trying to get equal access to health care for the Latino population. I wanted to join a group of like-minded individuals and be that force for change for the Latino population in Philly. I thought it would be great to do that alongside getting my MD.
COM: What are your goals as leaders for LMSA?
GA: We really want to advocate for positive changes in the culture of medicine and create networking opportunities for our Hispanic students and for all students who have traditionally been underrepresented in medicine. Part of that includes creating a positive, welcoming and inclusive community here at Drexel for our Hispanic students and giving them the resources they need to be successful in medicine. Having a support network is one of the biggest things, as well as having role models who look like you, come from a similar background, or who have had similar life experiences who you can look up to and reach out to for advice. Medicine is getting a lot better and becoming a lot more inclusive, but I think it is vital that we have more of these role models to have a network to tap into. It can be hard to navigate the medical field as someone who's underrepresented in medicine, so we want to use LMSA to support all of our students and advocate for a more inclusive culture in medicine.
DHG: We’re also hoping to provide health care access to people in Philly. Because of COVID-19, we can’t do the health fairs we usually hold. Instead, we’re trying to put together an informational flier with information about the virus and local COVID-19 testing sites in Spanish. We wanted to give something tangible to Philly’s Hispanic community.
COM: What kind of virtual events have you held for Hispanic Heritage Month?
GA: There’s an ongoing event that we're trying to do monthly: I partnered with some of the other LMSA chapters in the Philly area and started doing charlas, or chats. Or we all meet over Zoom and interested students with any level of fluency in Spanish are welcome. We get to talk about what’s going on in our lives right now, how we’re handling medical school and practice our Spanish. It’s a very open and inclusive event where students from around the Philly area can connect and work on their Spanish language skills.
DHG: We did a virtual screening of a short documentary that follows a Hispanic family that immigrates into the United States. That event was open to the Drexel community, and included a discussion of themes we saw in the documentary.
We also had a panel with Latino physicians to have them share their journey. They discussed what they have accomplished as Latinos in medicine, the obstacles they’ve faced and how they’ve overcome them. We thought that would be a great way for people to hear different perspectives.
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