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The Latino Medical Student Association emphasizes local patient education

LMSA engages in community service and outreach to bridge healthcare disparities in Latino communities in and beyond the University

The Latino Medical Student Association at the University is a student-run organization dedicated to bringing more diversity into the medical field by promoting Latinx involvement in medicine, as well as decreasing healthcare disparities in Latinx communities. The organization accomplishes this in three main ways — medical education, community service and outreach to encourage Latinx individuals to pursue medicine. 

Though the organization is called the Latino Medical Student Association, students of all identities are welcome to join. Membership is currently split evenly between Hispanic and non-Hispanic medical students. There are currently 35 active members, including 10 board members, headed by co-presidents Yajaira Garcia Rodriguez and Emily Rabinovich, both third-year Medical students at the University. 

“What I've noticed is that the Latino community here is very close knit,” Rabinovich said. “So it's best to all work on community service together with attendings, physicians and community members because then we can provide a more robust support system for our community together, then as separate entities.” 

The University’s chapter of LMSA was founded in 2010 by a group of Latinx medical students and an advisor. However, the regional and national levels of LMSA have been around for much longer. Since its founding, its goal of serving the Latinx community has remained unchanged. 

“You just see so much appreciation from patients, even for the medical students that only speak Spanish they've learned from school and they don't speak native Spanish,” Rabinovich said. “[Patients] appreciate it so much that people try to understand their culture and their community and their language and try to provide care to them because they just feel so much more comfortable when they can communicate with you in their own language.”

Many of the programs that LMSA members participate in are hosted in conjunction with the Latino Health initiative and the Cardiovascular Initiative. Through LHI and CVI, LMSA members participate in fundraising events, vaccination campaigns and health fairs. 

Other community service opportunities that LMSA members participate in include acting as Spanish interpreters at COVID-testing drives for Spanish-speaking patients. They also volunteer at the Charlottesville Free Clinic for Clinica Latina, which is an event held at the clinic two times a month that provides primarily Spanish-speaking patients with free care. At the clinic, members act as medical scribes and provide services through telemedicine.

The LHI also hosts the Promotoras de Salud program, which many LMSA members are involved in. The Promotoras program, as it’s commonly known, connects 10 to 15 members of the Latinx Charlottesville community with healthcare professionals so they can learn about a variety of health topics. These community members are then tasked with spreading the information to others in the Latinx community through word of mouth, flyer distribution and messages through WhatsApp. Student leaders involved in the program prepare the educational talks and organize monthly meetings for the promotoras. 

“And the benefit of the promotoras is that we're giving community members information that they can continue to disseminate,” Rabinovich said. “For example, this past year we haven’t really been able to do much because of the pandemic limiting group gathering sizes. It’s a great opportunity for community members that is accessible because people feel comfortable reaching out to them, and getting information to pass on to their peers, their families and their friends.”

Another program that works closely with the Promotoras program is Tardes de Salud. Tardes de Salud is a monthly meeting held by LMSA members at the Southwood Community Center, aiming to educate the majority Latinx community members on many topics, including child health and good nutrition, depression and Latinx life, and applying to college and financial aid. While the Promotoras program focuses on a few promotoras, the Tardes de Salud events are open to everybody in the community. 

COVID-19 paused many of the events typically hosted by LMSA, but a few of them, such as the general body meetings and Promotoras meetings, continued virtually. The first in-person events involved members volunteering to administer COVID-19 vaccinations this past February and educating patients on the benefits of the vaccine. 

LMSA also places a focus on engagement and relationship-building within the organization itself. The general body meetings occur every month-and-a-half and typically involve food from local Latinx family-owned businesses to expose members to different hispanic cultures. They also try to host at least one social event a month, such as an annual salsa dancing night, which will be taught by Rabinovich around the week of Oct. 25th.

They encourage participation in LMSA’s Mi Familia, which pairs medical student upperclassmen in the LMSA program with underclassmen every year based on a survey that participants fill out. Matches are made based on participant backgrounds, interests, and hobbies. The goal of the program is to provide underclassmen with mentors to connect them with resources. Through this program, family lineages grow every year, connecting younger students to more experienced professionals.

“I think it's really important for Hispanic and Latino youth to see medical students that are Hispanic and that speak the same language as them giving back to the community and studying medicine because if that's something that they're interested in and thought they couldn't do because of x, y or z reason, they have a community of medical students that are actively in the community and wants to help,” Rabinovich said. “And so we can serve as role models, and I think that that's incredibly valuable.”

Aside from community service, LMSA functions in many different capacities — it connects its members with mentors in the medical community, helps build resumes, does research, and hosts professional development events for their members.      

In the coming weeks, LMSA plans on hosting a Sobremesa — a medical Spanish event where members can practice their Spanish for use in volunteer opportunities — on Oct. 26. They are also hosting the annual Garden Party event on Nov. 6, where medical students can socialize, network, and learn about research opportunities with attendings, physicians, and advisors outside of an academic setting while enjoying catered food from local Latinx businesses. 

“I feel like the stronger our community is, and the tighter we are, the more we can show other Hispanics that they can also go into medicine because there’s a lot of need for Hispanic and Latinx doctors in the medical community,” Garcia said. “I feel like the stronger we are, the more people we can find to come into the medical field and help the community.”

When necessary, the organization receives funding from the Office for Diversity and Inclusion within the University medical school as well as from the Mulholland Society — a society in the medical school dedicated to promoting student voices to faculty and staff in the University health system. 

To join, interested medical students can contact any board members to be added to the GroupMe — one of the organization’s main forms of communication — with no application required. Aside from GroupMe, the organization sends out an email twice a month updating members on upcoming events and volunteer opportunities.

“LMSA was my gateway to connect with all of those people that I otherwise wouldn't have gotten to meet …because everything we were doing was online,” Santos Acosta, LMSA secretary and second-year Medical student, said. “LMSA really gave me the chance to get to know people with similar backgrounds as me, and provided me the opportunity to get out there and actively contribute to the Latinx Hispanic community that is here in Charlottesville.”

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