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Med student helps inform high school students about area health disparities

Med student helps inform high school students about area health disparities

HARLINGEN, TEXAS – AUGUST 24, 2015 – Medical student Santiago Diaz is giving back this summer. The University of Texas at Austin graduate served as program director of the South Texas Health Disparities Youth Program, in which 20 high school students from around the Rio Grande Valley participated in a three-day program to learn about the area’s health issues.

The term “health disparities” refers to differences in the health status of various groups of people.

Diaz enters his second year of medical school in September. He said The University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, which he attends, encourages students to take on research projects.

So, with the help of Dr. Francisco Fernandez, inaugural dean of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, Diaz hosted a pilot service project for high school students interested in the medical profession.

To launch the program, Diaz researched and wrote a proposal, which he submitted to the Innovation Fund Board at U. Chicago. The board approved his proposal and funded the program.

“There is a greater need for service projects here in the Valley,” Diaz said. “That is why I decided to take on this project right here in the Valley. Hopefully it provides a service to my community.”

The three-day program was held at the Harlingen School of Health Professions, 2302 N. 21st St. in Harlingen, Aug. 10-12.

HSHP Principal Tina Garza said the program was not exclusively for students of the high school. Five students who attend other schools in the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District also were selected to participate. All 20 participants were selected via an application process.

All the students selected already are on a fast track to medical school, she said.

“It’s been a learning process for all of us, because we just opened HSHP this past school year,” Garza said. “We hadn't hosted an event such as this, and it incorporated a partner. And that is what I call Santiago. Now, he's going to be our partner.”

The 20 students gave presentations on five regional health disparities, including lack of exercise, poor nutrition, obesity, diabetes and the low number of physicians.

“They were awesome!” Fernandez said. “Each presentation was very different. And most valuable, it was like attending a mini medical school.”

Programs like this one are absolutely key to the growth of the UTRGV School of Medicine, he said.

“First, Santiago Diaz is exactly the type of medical student we want to graduate in our first class, hopefully in 2020.

“Second, if you think about it, this is the future – whether they become doctors of medicine or doctors in a variety of different fields that are part of the allied professions – they will join an expanded, interprofessional team,” Fernandez said. “This is what we need to improve health promotion and disease prevention.”

And that is precisely UTRGV’s goal through the STITCH (South Texas Interprofessional Team Collaborative Health initiative – to promote collaboration in the range of health fields, he said.

“These students represent the future of what we aim to do, which is to educate them and keep them in the Valley.”

The participating students all agreed the program was both fun and informative.

“No matter what, just the littlest change can change the world,” said HSPS sophomore Katlyn Grant. “If you just teach one person to maybe have a better knowledge of their health, they can let other people know, and it can be a chain reaction.”


Marci Caltabiano Ponce, UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications
Jennifer McGehee Valdez, UTRGV Director of Media and Public Relations