Karina Diaz, MD-PhD

Karina Diaz, MD-PhD

When Karina Diaz, MD-PhD ’22, began her medical school journey at the UW School of Medicine, she had no idea what area of medicine she would specialize in or where she would end up practicing. But she knew she wanted to work with Latinx populations, so as soon as possible, she enrolled in the Latinx Health Pathway (LHP) program.

Eight years later, she has graduated with new tools, experiences and a vast network of support to help her deliver culturally humble care in a pediatrics residency program that serves Latinx communities.

Any UW Medicine student can enroll in one or more Pathway Programs while in school. The programs complement the standard medical school curriculum, allowing students to organize their courses, clinical rotations and volunteer opportunities around a particular underserved community, receive mentorship and build community with others who share their interests and passions.

The LHP was one of the first Pathways established in 2008 to help medical students provide culturally humble care for Latinx communities. Daniel Cabrera, MD, MPH, UW Medicine hospitalist at Harborview Medical Center, has directed the pathway since 2016.

Cabrera says he’s always been interested in working with Latinx communities, in large part because of his experiences as the son of an undocumented single mother. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have access to a lot of healthcare. There were times when we didn’t have insurance and we had to get care at free clinics. That planted the seed for me. I wanted to provide that kind of care to patients, especially Latinx patients,” he says.

As director of the LHP, Cabrera has assessed what’s working well and what needs improvement. He notes that some issues remain as relevant today as in years past, issues such as access to healthcare, immigration and certain health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. However, there were some aspects of the pathway in need of re-imagining. For instance, there needed to be more recognition that the Latinx community is not a monolith.

The Pathways Programs

  • *The Black Health Justice Pathway
  • *The Indian Health Pathway
  • *The Latinx Health Pathway
  • *The LGBTQ Health Pathway
  • The Global Health Pathway
  • The Underserved Pathway

*Administered by the Office of Healthcare Equity.

“We have to remember that there are differences even amongst a population that we call Latinx. We try to unpack that in some of the modules. And we’ve introduced a new module on COVID and how it’s disproportionally affected the Latinx community, not just nationally but here in Washington state,” says Cabrera.

In addition to updating some of the modules, Cabrera is also helping update the clinical experience by adding more clinical sites that serve a significant number of Latinx people. Still more sites are needed to provide students with sufficient opportunities to serve one of the fastest growing communities in the country and throughout the five-state WWAMI region (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho).

Daniel Cabrera, MD, MPH

Daniel Cabrera, MD, MPH

Diaz agrees that securing more clinical sites that serve Latinx communities is crucial for students. “Latinos are a large part of the population and will likely become the majority population over the next 20 years, within the time that we’re going to be practicing physicians,” she says.

Because Diaz was enrolled in the LHP, she knew that at least one of her six required rotations would be somewhere serving a large Latinx population, and in fact, two of her rotations fulfilled that requirement: a family medicine rotation with Sea Mar Marysville Medical Clinic and an emergency medicine rotation at Harborview Medical Center, part of UW Medicine’s learning health system.

A group of Latinx Health Pathway students at a program event.

Latinx Health Pathway students at a program event.

Those experiences gave her a better understanding of what culturally humble care looks like in practice. “What I noticed is that patients really appreciate when you listen and try to understand them,” says Diaz. “Having some understanding of home remedies, traditional illnesses or even traditional foods can help build trust between the physician and patient. But it’s also understanding that you might get something wrong. It’s important to remember that just because you know about one group, that’s not all Latinos. So you have to be constantly open to learning more.”

Additionally, by participating in LHP and all the networking opportunities included, Diaz was able to find what she calls her medical school family. By attending conferences and joining associations, she has built a database of supportive people who are also interested in working with and improving the health of Latinx communities.

In fact, during her final year of medical school, she served as national president of the Latino Student Medical Association, a group she found invaluable throughout her medical school journey. “These are the people you can talk to or complain to, so you don’t feel so alone going through the different struggles that come with medical school,” she says.

There are many ways that philanthropic support could help strengthen and grow the LHP say Cabrera and Diaz, from increasing networking opportunities to adding more clinical sites throughout WWAMI that work with Latinx populations to securing compensation for providers at clinical sites who often volunteer their time.

While directing the LHP is a job in itself, Cabrera hesitates to call it work because he enjoys doing it. And he knows the LHP is making a difference as the majority of students in the pathway end up practicing in communities where there are a majority of Latinx people. Every day he’s reminded of the pathway’s impact by all of the appreciative emails he receives from former students.

“It validates and reaffirms how important it is to have additional training around how to provide culturally humble care for these communities. Students appreciate getting to explore these concepts and issues during their school years. Then they get to put what they’ve learned into practice.”

Written by Eleanor Licata

Support More Equitable Healthcare for Latinx Communities

By supporting the Latinx Health Pathway in the UW School of Medicine you support future physicians who are passionate about serving Latinx communities and are working to bring about more equitable healthcare.