RIO GRANDE VALLEY - The Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) Southwest Regional Conference convened Feb. 14-16 at the UTRGV School of Medicine, to establish dialogue and networking opportunities for medical students, and for premed and high school students interested in a career in medicine.

LMSA is a national non-profit organization founded to represent, support, educate and unify Latino medical students in the United States, including those at UTRGV’s School of Medicine.

“It is important to have an organization like LMSA for many reasons,” said Sonya Rivera, UTRGV School of Medicine third-year medical student and LMSA chapter vice president. “It provides a voice for underrepresented medical students, promotes recruitment of Latino students, educates Latino medical students on health issues and healthcare, and provides both leadership and volunteer opportunities.”

The theme for this year’s conference was ‘Identidad Latina: Soy más que …” or “Latino Identity: I am more than …,” a focus that allowed participants to challenge the stereotypes that may be associated with Latinos in the medical field.

“We left the ellipsis so that everyone could fill it in with their own personal experiences,” said Jonathan Guajardo, third-year medical student with the UTRGV School of Medicine and LMSA chapter president said. “I am more than a series of characteristics. I am more than an immigrant. I am more than a surname. It can even apply to our field: I am more than a Latino doctor, I am a brother, a son, I like to barbecue and dance.”

Participants took part in an identity discussion and immigration policy workshop that sparked conversations about the ethical choices physicians may be faced with in today’s political climate.

“Knowing what to do when your patient is an immigrant and knowing what their rights are, both human and civil, is important,” Guajardo said. “What do you do if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shows up at your door? The ethical choices a physician will be faced with in such a scenario are issues that aren’t always discussed.”

A lecture on Latin-American Diaspora Health brought awareness of the ongoing healthcare issues among marginalized communities in Central and South America

High school students who attended the conference had the chance to partake in professional development opportunities, learning basic clinical skills and following clinical case simulations.

Résumé writing and interview workshops also were made available, all intended to provide tools for success to younger generations interested in medical fields.

“It is an honor to have hosted this year’s LMSA Southwest Regional Conference at our medical school,” said Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine and executive vice president for Health Affairs. “The diverse group of students who have engaged in these conversations are future healthcare professionals that will provide compassionate care to patients, their families and society.

“The UTRGV School of Medicine is committed to participating in conferences such as these to continue leading the way for increased medical education opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley,” he said.

This is the first year the UTRGV School of Medicine has hosted the Latino Medical Student Association Southwest Regional Conference.