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Medical Student Recognized for Improving Minority Health

June 14, 2010

Victor Cueto, a second-year Drexel University College of Medicine student, is one of only 13 medical students in the country to receive a 2010 Minority Scholars Award.

This award is presented by the American Medical Association (AMA) Foundation. It provides $10,000 to each recipient in recognition of academic achievement, financial need, and a commitment to improving minority health.

Since starting medical school, Cueto has been an active participant in student groups and projects that serve the community and work to support diversity and address minority health issues. Taking on leadership roles in the Latino Medical Student Association, developing bilingual community health presentations for a Latino neighborhood in Philadelphia, promoting an urban youth tutoring program, and coordinating relief efforts for Haiti and Chile, are just some of the projects Cueto is involved in.

“I was inspired by a couple of key doctors. First by my great pediatrician growing up and later by an infectious disease specialist who saved my mom's life,” said Cueto.

Born and raised in Hialeah, Fla., a blue-collar city outside Miami with a majority of foreign-born residents from Cuba and many other Latin American countries, Cueto was like most in the area. He grew up with parents who are Cuban exiles and who spoke English as a second language. Cueto described Hialeah as a working class town of low and middle-income households filled with many medically underserved inhabitants and a shortage of health professionals.

“In medicine, I have found a wonderful vehicle to help people and bridge the healthcare disparities that affect communities like my hometown. I also have a strong interest in promoting cultural and linguistic competence in medicine because I feel it is essential in establishing a good patient-doctor relationship,” said Cueto.

Before coming to Drexel University College of Medicine, Cueto received a Master of Science in biomedical sciences from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. There he conducted a pilot study researching the effectiveness of motivational interviewing on encouraging healthy lifestyle changes in overweight or obese African American women from an underserved area.

The Drexel community is indeed proud of Cueto’s achievements and this honor bestowed upon him. “He possesses excellent interpersonal skills and interacts well with all members of the small group as well as the faculty. His previous experiences . . . demonstrate his commitment to minority health and education,” said Susan Coffey Zern, M.D., assistant professor and associate dean of medical education at Drexel University College of Medicine.

The Minority Scholars Award promotes diversity in the medical profession and helps with the rapidly rising cost of medical education. The awards are granted to first or second-year medical students in groups defined as historically underrepresented in the medical profession. Less than seven percent of U.S. physicians fall within these groups, which include African American/Black, Native American, Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native and Latino. The award is given in collaboration with the AMA Minority Affairs Consortium, with support from Pfizer Inc.

“I am absolutely ecstatic and extremely grateful for having received this scholarship. I am humbled by having been selected among my peers nationwide,” exclaims Cueto. “I hope I’m not the last Drexel Med student recognized by this award. There are many student leaders at Drexel Med who are accomplished and deserving of recognition.

On average, future physicians graduate approximately $155,000 in debt, and in many cases the debt load is much higher. The AMA Foundation has made it a priority to help medical students handle the rising cost of their education. A large debt burden may deter many from practicing primary care medicine or practicing in underserved areas of the country.