Conference focuses on Latino health

by Sara McGahan | 2/21/16 7:08pm

The Geisel School of Medicine chapter of the Latino Medical Students Association recently celebrated one year of existence. Coinciding with their one-year anniversary, the group hosted the LMSA Northeast Regional Conference this weekend.

The conference, which is held every year at various institutions around the northeastern United States, attracted over 250 people to DHMC this Saturday, conference coordinator and LMSA member Claire Hogue Med’18 said.

Adrianna Stanley Med’18 and Fernando Vazquez Med’18 — the two founders of Geisel’s LMSA’s chapter — attended last year’s LMSA northeast regional conference at Johns’ Hopkins University. They decided to do so to figure out how to make their new chapter flourish and run effectively, Stanley said. While they were there, they placed a bid to host the conference this year.

“I think the reason we ended up winning was because we were such a new chapter,” Stanley said. “We wanted to expand the LMSA further north.”

Geisel is the only rural medical school in the LMSA northeast region, and Stanley and Vazquez highlighted the unique programs they could hold when bidding to get the conference in Hanover, Stanley said.

Each year, the conference’s theme — which is chosen by the LMSA northeast executive board — changes. This year, the theme of the conference is “Fortaleciendo Raíces: Uniting Efforts in the Changing Face of Healthcare.”

“Fortaleciendo Raíces,” which means strengthening roots, is particularly appropriate for this year’s conference, as the conference this year brought together and strengthened the Latino community, Stanley said.

High school students, pre-medical college students, medical students, graduate students, physicians and others interested in addressing health disparities in the Latino community were invited to attend the event. Workshops that targeted many of these participants occurred at the conference, with topics such as learning how to ace the medical school admissions process to learning about medical imaging with individuals from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s radiology department.

Sergio Davila, a Harvard University doctorate, student who led a workshop about Latinos in biomedical research, said that he was excited that high school and college students on the pre-medical track were eager to think about their career in medicine and interested in enhancing their education.

Davila, who saw the modern impact of medicine firsthand after his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and survived, tried to think about the uncertainties and questions he had as an undergraduate when he responded to the questions from younger students in his workshop.

While the workshops aimed to equip students with skills and resources, the panels aimed to educate the greater community about Latino health in general, Stanley said.

Two keynote speakers addressed the conference: Kenneth Dominguez, a medical epidemiologist working at the Center for Disease Control, and Chidi Achebe Med’96, the CEO and chairman of African Integrated Development Enterprise.

In addition, there was a session on the Dartmouth Geisel Migrant Health project, which is an organization that aims to provide medical care to migrant workers at no cost.

Stanley said that she thinks few people know about the significant Latino migrant dairy farm worker population living in the Upper Valley. This session was “eye-opening” to many members of the conference, Stanley said, as it focused on the often-unnoticed Latino population permanently living here.

Although they are a new student organization, Hogue — whose role as conference coordinator was to make sure everything ran smoothly on Saturday — said that the Geisel administration and other medical students were very supportive as they put together the conference. Fifty volunteers from Geisel helped the day of the event, she added.

LMSA chapter member Aurora Robledo Med’18 said her favorite part of the conference was seeing so many people interested in learning about Latino health and celebrating Latino culture.

Vazquez added that he got the sense that people did not realize how large the conference was going to be, but the large turnout allowed the Dartmouth community to see how far the organization has come in just one year.

Stanley said that she wanted to found the LMSA chapter at Geisel after recognizing the lack of a cohesive Latino community amongst the student body at Geisel. Most medical schools have an LMSA chapter, which provides the community and the space for discussing distinct Latino experiences, Stanley said.

When she decided to come to Geisel, Stanely said to herself, “OK, Dartmouth is the fourth oldest medical school in country, and there’s no LMSA chapter. This is a huge problem and we need to change that.”

Vazquez echoed this sentiment, saying that he personally wanted to start an LMSA chapter at the College to help recruit more Latino students to Geisel.

“I have actually met numerous students throughout New England and the East Coast who were accepted to Geisel, but chose not to come because they felt like Dartmouth as an institution had nothing to offer them as Latinos,” Vazquez said.

Vazquez added that he also wanted to more adequately prepare his fellow Geisel medical students to care for their Latino peers slated to increase in number in the upcoming years through the founding of LMSA.

When Stanley approached Robledo and told her about starting an LMSA chapter at the College, Robledo said she was excited to join. While there was a group of students interested in celebrating Latino culture and conscious of the health issues faced by Latino, there was not a concrete organization that got these students to congregate.

“It’s given us a good opportunity to meet together, to have fiestas every so often and to throw this conference,” Robledo said.

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