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Latinos in medicine: Role models for those who dare to dream

Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez

Very early in my education, I started looking around for someone I could look up to, unsuccessfully. Instead, I found many models of what not to become: a drop-out, mediocre, a cat lady, a frustrated immigrant, or prostitute. Nowadays, since I’ve already decided to go to medical school and become a doctor, I question whether that’s a good choice and look again for hope of success in those who made it.

But where are those who made it? Who are the Latinos who – just like me – came to the U.S. with a dream and pursued education to become health professionals? Once I started doing research I found there’s little to no information on Latino doctors online (apparently if you’re not a celebrity you’re not worth knowing about).  So I did what nerds do best: I went to the library. If you look on the bottom of the shelves, under all the books on statistics you may find pretty interesting resources on successful Latinos in any field.

I felt rushes of random joy every time I read a brother’s name with a fancy looking job tittle like biomedical engineer, or psychopharmacologist, or geneticist, and a little sadness to see the discrepancy between the number of men and women in the sciences. I hand-picked two doctors who I believe stand out in the field for being well known and respected, over-achievers, and, of course, Latinos:

Rodolfo Llinas: (Colombian-American, born 1934) currently teaching at NYU, Llinas is mostly known for his position as editor-in-chief of Neuroscience Journal and for his extensive research on neurobiology and electrophysiology. His research on neuronal systems and the evolution of the central nervous system led Llinas to develop his very own theory of brain’s functioning which could in turn lead to new developments on the treatment of mental illness. His research is summarized in the book I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self. *

Antonia Coello Novello:  (Puerto Rican, born 1944), mostly recognized for being the first woman and the first Hispanic U.S. surgeon general. She completed her medical education in the University of Puerto Rico; later on she obtained a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University. She worked in private practice of pediatrics and nephrology, before joining the Public Health Service. She served as representative of health and nutrition for UNICEF, also as a professor of health policy at Johns Hopkins, and as New York State’s health commissioner, appointed by governor Pataki.*

Latinos like these prove to each of us que si se puede. We can, with enough dedication and determination get as far as we wish in our careers. And even though becoming a doctor seems like the most unattainable of dreams due to the insane tuition rates, it is a rewarding career that promises stable employment and personal satisfaction. Also with the current shortage of Latino doctors, many universities and hospitals are constantly recruiting motivated Latino students.  Take advantage of every opportunity you encounter and move fearlessly in the direction of your dreams.

*Biographies taken from The Hispanic American Almanac. Third Editition. Benson & Kanellos, Gale Group 2003.

About Luna Garcia

Luna was born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She moved to Brooklyn at the age of 16 leaving her family and her homeland behind. In 2010 she obtained a BA in Psychology from Baruch College that she is probably never going to use since she decided to go to Medical School and is now pursuing her pre-medical degree in Chemistry. Her experience as a young immigrant places her in-between the American born open minded young Latinos and the old school Born-There generation, allowing her to see any conflict from many perspectives.

Luna has always been a big fan of literature in both English and Spanish. Her obsession turned later into a love for writing and for all things Latino. Currently, Luna is trying to survive her second undergrad while exploiting New York City and looking for more opportunities to write. Her dream is to write fiction but most of her stories escape as soon as they’re about to be written.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. We need more Latino doctors. Teach your children well…

  2. We need more good doctors regardless of ethnic group. What difference does it make if a doctor is from a specific group or not?

  3. And please teach good bedside manners!

  4. The bedside manner is very important.

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