A group of UTRGV School of Medicine students are spearheading an effort to bring awareness to both culture and medicine.

A fairly new organization, the Minority Advancement in Medicine is led by a six-member leadership team and completely governed by School of Medicine students. Dr. Beatriz Tapia, assistant dean of faculty development, serves as faculty advisor.

Vania Nwokolo, a first-year School of Medicine student and president of the organization, described the Minority Advancement in Medicine as an, “umbrella organization to house different minority ethnic groups.”

The organization already hosted two successful events – one for Hispanic Heritage Month and one for Black History Month. In May, they held an event for Asian Pacific American Heritage, with notable Asian Americans speakers sharing their experiences in the medical field.

“Culture and medicine is so influential,” Nwokolo said. “It sets the breeding ground for other people behind you, who are of your color or your culture, to be like, ‘Okay, if they can do it, I can do it.’”

Kathy Lutchi, a Denver, Colorado native and events coordinator for the group, said inclusion and knowledge of different cultures are valuable in the field of medicine.

“Our group likes to make sure everyone is represented,” the first-year medical student said. “People connect through people they see are similar to them. A lot of the times minorities don’t have that representation in healthcare.”

Nwokolo, a Houston native, explained the purpose of the events are to foster awareness and knowledge of other cultures in the Rio Grande Valley, in medicine and around the world.

“It’s something that’s very important, not only for other people to understand the cultures, but for your own well-being to know that you are appreciated and valued, and you’re supported,” she said.

UTRGV is a multi-campus institution with more than 800 international students from 67 different countries enrolled. Among the students, 24% are graduate students and 76% are undergraduates. The top five countries include: Mexico, India, China, Venezuela and Brazil.

Armando Flores, a first-year medical student and the group’s policy chair, said as someone who is interested in pursuing family medicine, it’s incredibly important to be sensitive and be culturally aware.

“It’s better that you’re more conscious of patients’ backgrounds, different cultures, and you’re ready to handle it. It’s important to be diverse,” the McAllen native said.

As part of the UTRGV School of Medicine experience, medical students attend a class that touches on alternative medicine from various cultures, and also teaches how to show respect and integrate the practices with medicine.

With more than 20 members, the Minority Advancement in Medicine leadership team said they do have a strategy in place for next school year. Their goals include starting earlier, making their events bigger, and growing the organization’s membership with the new entering class.

Minority Advancement in Medicine is opened to medical students only. To learn more, contact Vania Nwokolo at vania.nwokolo01@utrgv.edu.