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    Diversity in Health Care Focus of Hispanic Heritage Month Observance

    Diversity in Health Care Focus of Hispanic Heritage Month Observance

    Courtesy Photo | Dr. Jennifer Peña read more read more

    “You can’t just talk the talk when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI),” said Army veteran, Dr. Jennifer Peña. “You have to put that talk into action, and walk the walk.”
    Pena, a former physician in the White House Medical Unit under both the Obama and Trump administrations, shared these sentiments during an online panel discussion in observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 16.
    The panel discussion, moderated by Uniformed Services University’s Latin American Medical Students Association, focused on diversity in health care. USU and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center sponsored the presentation.
    “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation,” is this year’s theme for National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
    “It’s not just having conversations about DEI because nowadays, everybody has a ‘DEI something.’ You actually have to put these things into concrete actions,” Peña said. In addition to Peña, the panel included Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Sebastian Lara, Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Jonathan Kolon, and Nely Argueta, a medical assistant at WRNMMC/USU.
    The panelists agreed that medical practitioners should reflect and be able to communicate effectively with the communities they serve, which calls for greater diversity in health care.
    Peña, a native of Puerto Rico, explained that DEI within organizations can come from having employee resource groups and similar forums where ideas can be discussed and presented for change, and leadership is receptive to change. “When it comes to [the organization], it’s about making sure you’re [effectively representing] your patients and employees,” added Peña.
    “I’m pretty much a believer of ‘If you see one, you can be one,’ and if you don’t have [diverse] representation at the top levels of your organization, then it doesn’t bode well in terms of your company painting itself as inclusive and diverse,” she furthered.
    “As I advertise the Department of Defense to [applicants of the] Health Professions Scholarship Program, something that I say is, ‘In the private practice world, you don’t have to have equal opportunity (EO),’” said Kolon, a USU dental professor. He added EO is mandated throughout DOD. “It’s an honorable and very good thing. I tell people if [EO] is important, add it to the equation when it comes to, ‘Should I stay in or get out?’ Some people value [EO] so much, they stay. There’s absolutely wonderful things in that,” added Kolon, who has worked in private practice in addition to his military career. His ancestry is from Spain.
    Lara, whose father came from Mexico and mother from Argentina, said Spanish is one of his passions, and Peña added it was her first language growing up in Puerto Rico.
    Kolon added that deploying on humanitarian missions to Latin American countries afforded him the opportunity to gain knowledge of some Spanish medical terminology, which helps him better serve his patients whose primary language is Spanish.
    “When it comes to the delivery of care to Spanish-speaking patients, as a practice manager, it’s important you make sure the quality of the care is the same as you would in delivering care to an English-speaking person,” Peña said. This is why it’s important to recruit physicians and other health-care practitioners who speak various languages,” she added.
    Lara said that there are family members from Spanish-speaking countries who come to WRNMMC for care when their military spouses are assigned here. Some come understanding very little English. “It’s been a benefit and an honor to help out these families, and you can visibly see how they relax when you walk in the exam room and you’re able to just say, ‘Hello’ and ‘Welcome to the hospital’ in Spanish,” he said.
    Peña said it’s also important to have diverse representation in clinical trials and studies for better outcomes of new medication and therapeutics across various populations. She explained that it’s often a challenge to get individuals from Black and Latino communities to participate in medical studies because of a general distrust among those populations towards the medical community. She explained that this can be attributed to medical practitioners’ inability to effectively communicate with the individuals who live in these communities, as well as past histories of how the medical community treated these communities.
    “During the pandemic, there was misinformation given to underrepresented minorities, and there was a higher prevalence of COVID and COVID-related complications in Black and Latino populations. It’s going to take a long time to come back from that,” Peña stated.
    “Sometimes, alternate therapies can be lifesaving, but there’s still this preconceived notion that they’re still experimental,” Peña explained. She added this often makes people in communities of color feel like they’re being treated as guinea pigs.
    “It comes back to communication and education, and trying to regain that trust [with the individuals in those communities]. It is challenging,” Peña said.
    “As human beings, we always want to be understood,” added Argueta, who also works with a charity offering a youth clinic providing care to immigrant children and families from Latin American countries.
    National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates contributions people of Hispanic ancestry have made to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. It also recognizes the anniversary of the Spanish independence for several Latin American countries including El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico, most Central American countries, and Chile celebrate their independence from Spain on Sept. 15, Sept. 16, and Sept. 18, respectively.
    For more information about National Hispanic Heritage Month, visit



    Date Taken: 09.23.2022
    Date Posted: 09.23.2022 12:41
    Story ID: 429966
    Location: US

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