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UMass Chan Latino Medical Student Association diversifies student body

Members of the UMass Chan chapter of the Latino Medical Student Association: Christian Pineda, Tomás Rodríguez and Felipe Pina

The Latino Medical Student Association chapter at UMass Chan Medical School is diversifying the student body with groups historically underrepresented in medicine through advocacy, peer support and mentoring initiatives.

“I would say that our biggest focus as an organization is to recruit and to retain by making people comfortable, happy, social and really trying to reach out on a personal level if any one of our members is facing difficulties, whether that be academically or personally,” said executive board member Tomás Rodríguez, who restarted the chapter in 2020 with Vanessa Villamarin, MD'21.

The group recently advocated successfully for the expansion of the number of students on the T.H. Chan School of Medicine Admissions Committee so more voices could be represented. Last year the Student Body Committee selected four students and this year they selected eight. Third-year medical students Christian Pineda and Felipe Pina worked with the Diversity and Inclusion Office to create a new scenario for the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) when they served on the admissions committee.

“The new MMI question incorporates the same critical thinking process as we’ve always tried to elicit from applicants, but applied to scenarios that are a little bit more geared toward what we think about in modern medicine, so making sure that every patient’s experience, regardless of their background, is a positive one,” said Rodríguez, an MD/PhD candidate from Sacramento who completed his PhD work in gene editing and computational biology in the lab of Erik Sontheimer, PhD, the Pillar Chair in Biomedical Research and professor of RNA therapeutics. Rodríguez is in his last two years of medical school. 

Pina, a UMass Amherst graduate who was born in Brazil and moved to Worcester when he was 3, said the Latino Medical Student Association chapter wants enrolled students to feel comfortable so that they can excel. One way the group ensures that is by recruiting students and faculty for the mentorship program UMass LIGHT (the Leadership Institute for Growth, Health and Transformation).

“The social aspect, I think, is huge,” Pina said. “You can go to people who grow up similarly to you, who eat similar food, who listen to similar music. Things like that can really make a big difference.”

This summer, members met with students from the Morehouse School of Medicine and the CUNY School of Medicine who participated in the Diversity for Health Care, Innovation and Medicine (Diversity for HIM) Summer Learning Opportunity, introducing them to resources in Worcester.

“This is a community,” said Pineda, who took part in the Baccalaureate MD Pathway Program while majoring in biology at UMass Amherst. “Even though Vanessa has graduated, I still reach out to her from time to time. So even when we leave, I think a part of us will always be around.”

According to admissions data, in 2017, 11 Latin-identifying students were accepted to the Medical School. By 2020, when Pineda and Pina were accepted, the number had jumped to 27. During the 2022 application cycle, the number had risen to 43. In August, Latino Medical Student Association Northeast named UMass Chan its chapter of the month.

Maria Garcia, MD, MPH, the Marcellette G. Williams Scholar, professor of medicine and family medicine & community health, and assistant vice provost of diversity and student success, is the chapter’s mentor.

Related stories on UMass Chan News:
Summer learning opportunity at UMass Chan welcomes students underrepresented in medicine
Student-created mentorship groups shine through UMass LIGHT