NEWS | December 22, 2011

Mexican health officials honor UC Davis physician for contributions to improving health

Editor's note:

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Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, an internationally renowned expert on mental health in ethnic populations, was named Favorite Son of Sinaloa for his significant contributions to improving the health of the people of Sinaloa, Mexico.

Aguilar-Gaxiola received the award at the Day of the Physician celebration in October 2011. Nearly 2,000 practicing physicians from throughout Mexico attended the prestigious event, which was sponsored by Sinaloan Governor Mario López Valdez and Secretary of Health Ernesto Echeverría Aispuro. Aguilar-Gaxiola, who was born in the small town of Guamúchil, Sinaloa, but has been a U.S. resident for more than 20 years, is the first physician residing outside of Mexico to receive the favorite-son award.

"I am very honored to receive this recognition and look forward to working with Sinaloan health officials to establish more robust health-care services in the state," he said.

Aguilar-Gaxiola is a professor of clinical internal medicine, founding director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities, and director of the Clinical and Translational Science Center's Community Engagement Program. He is an expert in translating evidence-based knowledge into practical information for all, especially individuals, families, communities and populations whose health needs have not have been met by traditional health care systems. He works to build on existing community partnerships and establish new relationships to facilitate the planning, conduct and dissemination of high-quality research that holds promise for improving access to care and reducing health disparities.

During the past 25 years, Aguilar-Gaxiola has directed several research programs focused on identifying unmet mental-health needs and associated risk and protective factors and developing community-based approaches to reduce health-care disparities in underserved populations. These efforts have included translating research findings on health, mental health and substance abuse into practical information for consumers, their families and providers, as well as for service administrators and policy makers involved in the development of effective intervention and delivery-of-care programs.

Aguilar-Gaxiola also has served as co-investigator on a number of National Institutes of Health-funded epidemiological studies to identify prevalence rates of mental-health disorders, substance abuse and other health conditions, as well as factors associated with increased risk and prevention, and patterns of utilization of health-care services.

As the on-site principal investigator of the Mexican American Prevalence and Services Survey -- one of the largest mental-health surveys of Mexican-origin adults ever conducted in the U.S. -- he identified the most prevalent mental-health disorders in the Mexican-origin population in California's Central Valley. He also showed that the rate of disorders increases the longer the individual resides in the United States, and demonstrated that children of immigrants have even greater rates of mental disorders. From this study, he developed a model of service delivery that increased access to mental-health services among the Central Valley's low-income, underserved, rural populations.

Aguilar-Gaxiola received his medical degree from the Autonomous University of Guadalajara, Mexico and a doctoral degree from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He also completed a postdoctoral fellowship on health-services research at the University of California, San Francisco.

Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola accepts award in Sinaloa, Mexico. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola accepts award in Sinaloa, Mexico.

The UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities, in alliance with the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center, provides leadership and support within and beyond UC Davis Health System to promote the health and well-being of ethnically diverse populations. The center focuses on raising awareness of the unique cultural and linguistic attributes of minority populations, developing culturally and linguistically sensitive communications for health-care professionals, and working with policymakers, administrators, practitioners, consumers and families to reduce health-care disparities and improve quality of care. Building on UC Davis' long history of outreach to the most vulnerable, underserved populations in the Sacramento region, the center raises awareness, conducts critical research and assists those communities whose needs have never been addressed or met by the traditional health-care system. The center's ultimate goal is to improve health outcomes for all. For more information, visit