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Hispanic Heritage Month: Student Stories

Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15 every year to celebrate the history, culture, and the many contributions that U.S Latinx and Hispanic communities have brought to American society. In celebration, we wanted to share some thoughts from our students about what being a member of the Hispanic/Latinx community means to them. Read their experiences below.

Isela Orozco, Class of 2025

I remember the feeling of my aqua gel pen against my hands. I was in my third year of undergrad, and my arm trembled as I scribbled Isela Orozco on the Project Vision sign-up sheet. I wondered what it would be like to volunteer with them. They presented themselves as an organization that serves low-income communities by connecting them to free and low-cost ocular services. As someone interested in the intersection between science and public health, I felt drawn to the organization. I figured if I did not enjoy it, I could leave after one semester. Little did I know that Project Vision would change my perspective on medicine.

I will never forget the gratitude in the eyes of the first patient I assisted. I lacked experience and was nervous. She was petite, had enormous chocolate brown eyes, and had the warmest smile on her face. Something about her mannerism was comforting. She reminded me of my tias, my neighbors, and my friend’s parents. The patient spoke minimal English. She struggled to communicate that she was unable to pay for her treatment. A look of relief washed over her face when I broke down her options in Spanish. Her smile alone confirmed that eliminating barriers to healthcare was something I could see myself doing as a practicing doctor. I had never considered the power I held as a native Spanish speaker and aspiring clinician. I was able to help not only her but each individual that sought the help of Project Vision. I guided them to local clinics and offered vouchers for eye exams or frames. I felt confident yet unsatisfied. I knew that being the doctor within each clinic would be much more impactful.

That evening I pondered on my childhood. I grew up in a predominantly Hispanic community. I have friends and family members that share experiences with that of my patient. These experiences are not just a one-time thing. They are a consistent issue within our communities. They were and continue to be a deeply rooted problem in the healthcare system. Individuals from underrepresented communities often lack resources and access to healthcare. Having access to healthcare does not mean that individuals will be exempt from language barriers or even medical racism. One of the most significant parts of being a clinician is forming genuine connections with patients. As a Latina in STEM and aspiring OD, I hope to use my voice inside and outside the exam room. I am passionate about eliminating the health gaps formed by racial inequalities. From raising cultural awareness amongst my future colleagues to breaking down language barriers and bridging the gap to equitable healthcare, I aspire to serve and support communities like the one I grew up in. I eagerly anticipate the day where I greet my patients in a cheery lobby and say Hola, soy la Doctora Orozco. Voy hacer su examen hora – Hello, I am Dr. Orozco, I will be doing your exam today.

Svetlana Nunez, Class of 2025

My family is from Northern and Central America, Mexico and Nicaragua.

Being Latinx, I began an unknown journey that no one in my family had the opportunity or resources to do before. Throughout high school and college, I broke stereotypes and statics endowed upon my ethnicity. It means that statistically I was not supposed to end up at Berkeley Optometry. My Latinx heritage influences the exam room. It is a symbol of diversity within the field of optometry. My goal as a future optometrist is to influence Latinx children and young adults sitting in my exam chair because maybe, they will finally see someone who looks like them and speaks their language. Being Latinx does not influence me; it influences and empowers the future of tomorrow so that their only limit is themselves, not judgments, not statistics, not stereotypes.

Baldemar Torres, Class of 2025

As diverse individuals, our families run into some of the barriers that many other minority and low-income communities face when seeking eye care. And that uniquely positions us to become excellent eye care professionals!

My family immigrated from Monterrey in Mexico before I was born, and we qualified to receive free eye care and eye wear thanks to the Gift of Sight program. If it weren’t for this charitable organization, my family would not have afforded eyeglasses for me during a critical time in my educational development. My vision impairment would have gone ignored for years, and that is the sad reality that many minorities and other vulnerable groups face in our country.

Having lived through this experience firsthand shaped my commitment to serve and care for the needs of other diverse, under-resourced populations as an aspiring optometrist. Even now as a student, what gets me through all the long nights studying is the constant reminder of the impact I’ll have as a multilingual eye doctor in my community.

Eloisa Morfin, Class of 2024

My family comes from a pueblo called Tumbiscatio located in the state of Michoacán in Mexico. Immigrating to the United States from Mexico at a very young age, my parents came here with very little in hopes of providing a better life for their future family. Their hard work has been inspiring and drives me and my sisters as we become the first-generation of college graduates.

As business owners, my parents have influenced my appreciation for community. Starting to work at a private practice while I was in high school, I noticed very quickly how vital eye-care is in my small community where there isn’t many providers around. Being a part of a community means being able to understand and learn from the many different backgrounds, cultures, and identities around you.

As a first generation Mexican-American, I grew up with first-hand experience on the importance of cultural competency in providing high quality patient care. I experienced this locally, but even more so when traveling to Guatemala on a mission trip to help provide eye exams and shadow strabismus surgery. Being bilingual, I felt a personal connection to the culture and community. I had the opportunity to personally work with over 500 children and adults during field vision screenings at my glasses station. It reminds me just how much our work of prescribing them with a new pair of glasses could allow them the ability to attend school and lead a normal life. I feel humbled knowing that eye-care has the power to potentially change the outcome of someone’s life.

With only 5% of doctor’s in the US being Hispanic/Latinx, I feel grateful to be apart of the growing diversity in healthcare. Closing the language barrier brings a sense of trust when it comes to patient care and I look forward to provide that to my future patients. As a future Latina doctor, I look forward to being able to be a role model as well as provide high quality patient care to my Hispanic/Latinx community.