*Pictured above from left to right: Dr. Severo Ochoa, Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías, Dr. Nora Volkow, Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, and Dr. Carlos Canseco González

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate the histories and contributions made by citizens of Hispanic descent. This National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 – October 15, we are highlighting doctors of Hispanic backgrounds who made an impact in the world of medicine.

Hispanic Professionals Shaping Modern Medicine

Dr. Severo Ochoa (September 4, 1905 – November 1, 1993) – Dr. Ochoa was a Spanish biochemist and physician, and the first Hispanic American to win the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1959. Thanks to Dr. Ochoa, doctors have a better understanding of human genetic code, and we would not have the medical breakthroughs with mRNA vaccines without his groundbreaking research.

Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías  (July 7, 1929 – December 27, 2001)– Dr. Rodriguez Trías was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City. Despite speaking English and getting good grades, she still faced discrimination and bias due to being Hispanic. After graduating from Universidad de Puerto Rico, she opened the first care center for newborns in her home country of Puerto Rico, and within three years-time the country’s infant mortality rate declined by half. Helen eventually returned to New York City, and became the head of the pediatric unit at Lincoln Hospital, where she cared for the underserved Puerto Rican population of the South Bronx. Dr. Rodriguez Trías was an advocate for women’s health, brought national attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic affecting mothers and babies, and was elected the first Hispanic president of the American Public Health Association in 1993.

Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde (September 6, 1920 – September 5, 2010) – Dr. Murillo-Rohde was a Panamanian American nurse who dedicated her career to bringing more Hispanic nurses into the workforce to care for the largely Hispanic population of San Antonio. She eventually went on to become the first Hispanic Dean of Nursing at New York University and Professor Emeritus of SUNY’s School of Nursing. She also founded the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN), and was declared a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing.

Dr. Carlos Canseco González (March 17, 1921 – January 14, 2009) – Dr. González was a Mexican physician and philanthropist who specialized in allergology. Dr. González taught the first allergology course in his home country of Mexico, and raised money to build the first Children’s Hospital in Monterrey. Together with Polish-American researcher Albert Sabin, he co-developed an aerosol vaccine for polio as part of his international campaign to eradicate the disease.

Dr. Nora Volkow (March 27, 1956 – ) – Dr. Volkow is a Mexican psychiatrist and the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Dr. Volkow’s research led to the discovery that drug addiction is a brain disorder. Her findings have also been instrumental in understanding the neurobiology of ADHD, aging, and obesity. During her psychiatric residency at New York University, she was selected to participate in the Laughlin Fellowship Program, a program where only candidates deemed likely to make significant contributions in psychiatry are chosen.

Recognizing Hispanic Pioneers in Medicine

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, it is important to spotlight Hispanics in the medical profession, because they are a largely under-represented minority in this field. Hispanics are one of the least likely ethnic group to seek medical care due to language barriers, cultural influences, and lack of insurance coverage.

By highlighting current Hispanic medical pioneers, and encouraging aspiring Hispanic doctors to pursue a career as a physician, we can begin to close the gap and help end disparities in healthcare for minorities.