Historic Gathering: The Latino Medical Student Association National Conference
Malek Maddah, a second-year medical student at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, and a core group of fellow students organized what conference planners say was a “historic” gathering of Hispanic and Latinx physicians, academics, and students earlier this month in Philadelphia.
Asked how he and other medical students had carved out the time to plan the 2022 National & Northeast Regional Conference of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), Mr. Maddah said, ““There’s a saying that pressure makes diamonds. I believe that.”
The conference, held March 2 - 6, drew a 810 healthcare professionals and students of Latinx, Hispanic and Spanish descent – physicians,. professors, deans, medical students, residents, and pre-med students from around the nation attended in person or virtually. On the agenda were four days of professional-development sessions for physicians and academics as well as three days of programming for students. The conference also offered plenty of time for networking, mentorship, and social events.
The conference’s exhibitor fair, gala, and room block at The Logan Hotel, were sold out.
“We blew this one out of the park.” said Mr. Maddah, a conference co-chair for LMSA’s Northeast Region and immediate past president of its Temple chapter. “It was amazing.”
Nationwide, the LMSA seeks “to unite and empower current and future physicians through service, mentorship, and education” as it advocates for increased diversity in medicine and to mitigate health disparities in the population. The national conference rotates each year among the LMSA’s five regions, and this year was the Northeast region’s turn.
Instead of one medical school serving as host, as in years past, four Philadelphia medical schools -- Temple, Jefferson, Drexel, and Penn – joined together as co-hosts. And instead of holding the meeting at a single medical school, the conference was moved to a hotel. A professional-development track added to the numbers, too.
“That’s why we were able to expand and make this so historic,” Mr. Maddah said. “It had never been done before, which came with a lot of challenges as well.”
Ana Gamero, PhD, Associate Professor, Medical Genetics and Molecular Biochemistry and Oneida Arosarena, MD, Professor of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, serve as faculty advisors to the Temple LMSA chapter. Dr. Gamero said strong support from Katz School of Medicine Interim Dean Amy J. Goldberg, MD, FACS, and Abiona Berkeley, MD, JD, Interim Associate Dean of Health, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, was key to turning the Latinx students’ dream into reality.
“These are students who really care about becoming great doctors and they care about improving their community,” Dr. Gamero said. “You see students who are so excited with so much desire to make a difference.”
By all accounts, the learning curve for everyone involved – from the core group of eight student planners to faculty advisors -- was steep. Mr. Maddah recalls after a day of classes, putting on a suit, and heading into Center City to talk with hotel managers about event logistics.
Mr. Maddah said he worked closely with Steven Gravier, a Jefferson medical student, and another conference co-chair.
Dr. Gamero helped the Temple students navigate the thorny questions that arose in a year of preparation. And she encouraged several of her Temple colleagues to teach conference workshops.
Most of the legwork, though, was done by the students at the four medical schools, with help from the national organization and a network of subcommittees. From selecting keynote speakers to preparing slides for the 30 breakout sessions, the students nailed down the details.
Planners knew expectations were running high because the conference would kick off “50 years of LMSA chapters” dating to the organizations founding in 1972 at Harvard Medical School. It would also be the first time in two years that the gathering could take place in person because of COVID-19.
Chosen to be keynoters were Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, MD, Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Ana Núñez, MD, Vice Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Minnesota Medical School. J. Emilio Carrillo, MD, one of the organization’s founders and an internal medicine specialist at Weill Cornell Medicine, attended an honored guest.
Juan Cerezo, a fourth-year Temple medical student and a Northeast Region co-director who helped with conference planning, said a lot of emphasis this year was put on faculty mentors. About 200 faculty members participated in the professional-development sessions or led workshops.
“We had 100 deans, professors, associate deans from across the country attend in person. They came to connect with the medical students. I think that was a first for us, which was pretty amazing,” he said.
Both Mr. Cerezo and Mr. Maddah said the conference experience had required them to raise their leadership skills to a new level. In addition, as the conference approached, Mr. Maddah needed to study for his Step 1 exam, which is required to proceed to the third year of medical school, so time management was especially important.
For Mr. Cerezo, the most inspiring moment came near the end of the conference as Dr. Núñez delivered her keynote address. The ballroom was full, and there was an overflow crowd in the room next door. “It just felt good, seeing it all come together after,” he said.
Mr. Maddah said the highlight for him was the reaction he received during his speech before a crowd of about 300 people at the closing gala. He spoke of his own immigrant experience, of arriving in the United States from Venezuela at age 14 and being unable to speak a word of English. He could sense that the people in the audience, made up of professionals and students who looked a lot like him, were relating to his story.
“I felt comfortable,” he said. “It felt like home.”
Top Honors for Katz School of Medicine
The Temple LMSA chapter won top honors in two categories at the LMSA National Northeast Regional Conference meeting.
The chapter was named the “Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trias Chapter of the Year,” competing for the honor against about 40 other medical school chapters in a region that stretches from Washington, D.C., to Maine.
Mr. Maddah said the award stemmed from being a co-host of the National Conference and for holding 17 local events during the year, a range of community-service, social, networking, mentorship, and academic-related events, he said.
The school's chapter also won “Best Video” honors in a contest sponsored by the LMSA organization. Michael Lesgart, a first-year student at Katz School of Medicine, directed and edited the video. All entrants’ videos were designed in response to this national organization prompt: How does your institution show support for LMSA?
“I thought the best way to get that message across was to ask students directly,” Mr. Lesgart said, in explaining the on-camera interviews he conducted with several LMSA members. (The director’s cameo appearance shows him peering through a microscope.)
“We were so excited to win,” he said, noting that pulling together the components of the video, including the opening drone shots of Philadelphia, was a team effort.