Monday, June 13, 2022

By Dimitra Trejo

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS Third-year UTRGV med student Isha Mittal is the most recent recipient of the U.S. Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Award.  

The award was established to recognize the contributions to public health from medical students across the country.   

The UTRGV School of Medicine nominated Mittal for their commitment to meeting the Healthy People 2030 initiative established by the U.S. Public Health Service.  

Mittal’s passion and work for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) health and advocacy stood out among the many nominees for the award. Mittal, who comes to UTRGV from Colombia University with a master’s degree in public health - said it has always been a goal to uplift those who identify as LGBTQIA+.   

“My program focused on sexual and reproductive health – and that work continued here for me in the Rio Grande Valley,” Mittal said. “My goal is to be a pediatrician and to work in adolescent health. I want to work with queer youth, and I plan to do this work pretty much for my entire life.”  


Mittal hopes to use the award to highlight the importance of training physicians to be more aware of the differences within in our communities.   

“A lot of the battle is educating people, increasing cultural competency for our providers, and normalizing the fact that LGBTQIA+ people exist… especially LGBTQIA+ youth,” Mittal said. “So, oftentimes, the first step is just starting that conversation.”  

Since the beginning of medical school, Mittal has been passionately working to cast light on queer health, even re-starting the UTRGV Medical Student Pride Alliance group on campus, the local chapter of the national MSPA organization.  

“I took on the role as lead for MSPA right before the pandemic, and student engagement has been difficult,” Mittal said. “Nonetheless, we persevered and that is why we are being highlighted by the U.S. Public Health. In 2021, we put on an LGBTQIA+ UTRGV Conference in partnership with the UTRGV Office of Diversity. It was a day-long virtual event, and we invited local speakers to focus on what the experience of being queer in the Valley is like.”  

Conference attendees received LGBTQIA+ resources unique to Valley residents, Mittal said. 

“We have a lot of intersections in the RGV,” they said. “English may be a second language, if they speak English at all. We have a big immigrant population and a historically, medically underserved community, so it’s a very unique place to bring these resources to. People were very grateful.”  


Mittal hopes to continue organizing LGBTQIA+ specific events to raise awareness and bridge the healthcare gaps not only in the South Texas region, but also around the country.  

“Our conference was the cornerstone of the work we are doing in the Valley and why we were recognized,” Mittal said. “The efforts we are putting into highlighting resources for LGBTQIA+ people are one I’m passionate about, but it also simultaneously meets the priorities of the Public Health Service’s Healthy People 2030 goals.”  

One of those project goals is providing more mental health resources across the United States.  

“The project has a set of goals that the nation wants to see happen in the next 10 years, and one we showcased was increasing treatment for people with depression,” Mittal said. “For this reason, we had mental health providers talking about those resources, as well as addressing bullying and how to combat that in our environment.”  

Mittal has become part of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Organization (GLMA) fellows’ program – a national organization committed to ensuring health equity for LGBTQIA+ and all sexual and gender minority individuals that aims to further LGBTQIA+ health – and is continuing their studies to become a pediatric physician with a focus on LGBTQIA+  health.  

“If I can be just one more person to provide this specific care, especially in this region,” Mittal said, “it will make a huge difference to those patients.”  


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.