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UC Davis Health System

UC Davis Health System

Early experience as family "translator" sparked interest in medical career

Photo of Miriam Abaunza examining patient Miriam Abaunza, a second-year student at the UC Davis School of Medicine, recently received a $5,000 scholarship from the National Hispanic Health Foundation, aimed at students who have made a commitment to improving the health of Hispanic communities. (Photograph by Emi Manning)

When she accompanied her parents and nephews to their doctors’ appointments as a young child, Miriam Abaunza was not there simply to enjoy the new Highlights Magazine. Abaunza had an important role to fill: She served as the official translator for her Spanish-speaking family members.

Those early experiences sparked Abaunza’s interest in medicine at a young age. By the time she was 12, she had been closely observing and taking note of the doctors’ behaviors and patterns.

“The doctors would find it amusing when I would walk in with a notebook full of details and inform them of the treatment I had begun, based on the connections I had made during previous visits,” Abaunza said.

Now a second-year student at the UC Davis School of Medicine, the native of San Pedro, Calif. recently received a $5,000 scholarship from the National Hispanic Health Foundation, aimed at students who have made a commitment to improving the health of Hispanic communities. The foundation is a nonprofit group affiliated with the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.

Dean Claire Pomeroy"The statistics are very clear: Thirty-six percent of California’s population is Latino, but only 4 percent of its physicians are Latino. We can change that."
— Claire Pomeroy, Vice Chancellor for Human Health Sciences and dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine

Claire Pomeroy, Vice Chancellor for Human Health Sciences at UC Davis and dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine, said, “The statistics are very clear: Thirty-six percent of California’s population is Latino, but only 4 percent of its physicians are Latino. We can change that. The path leading to a more equitable future is being defined by leaders and students like Miriam.”

Abaunza saw another dimension of medicine as a teenager, when she and her family lacked health insurance and traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, for medical care. When her family had insurance, they went to a clinic in downtown Los Angeles that targeted Latinos.

“It was these struggles that made me realize the importance of cultural competence and the lack of minority physicians, two reasons why I decided to pursue medicine,” Abaunza said.

Abaunza and this year’s other scholarship winners were selected by the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, the Latino Caucus of the American Public Health Association, the Hispanic Dental Association and the National Hispanic Medical Association.