When Eli Luna was a boy in Idaho, he remembers tagging along with his grandma while she went to visit neighboring Latino families.
As a liaison between the public school system and migrant workers, Luna’s grandmother met with parents, encouraging them to enroll their kids in school; as a former migrant worker, she had insight into their culture and needs. For Luna, it was a powerful lesson about the value of education — and the importance of making connections with underserved populations.
“Seeing my family giving of themselves…inspired me to find a career by asking myself how I wanted to help people,” says Luna.
Another defining moment came in high school, when Luna’s uncle was diagnosed with cancer and the family joined him in Houston for his care.
“My grandparents in Texas don’t speak English, but the doctors always took the time to make sure they were informed about my uncle’s condition,” Luna says. “It was pretty impressive.”
Helping students like Luna is why the UW Medicine Committee for Minority Faculty Advancement created their new scholarship. In fact, he’s the scholarship’s very first recipient.
The committee was created to help promote professional development, increasing representation and leadership in the medical profession. And its scholarship drive was so enthusiastically supported that the initial funding goal was met in one week. The contributors saw a clear and present need for scholarships.
“In my work with the admissions committee, I was interviewing amazing applicants — and I was also seeing that a lot of them were getting great scholarship offers at other places,” says oncologist Johnnie Orozco, MD ’06, PhD ’04, Fel. ’12, one of the leaders in the scholarship’s creation. “We were losing them because they could get better financial aid packages elsewhere. For most of us from these communities and backgrounds, scholarships make a huge difference.”
Like Luna, Orozco grew up in a Spanish-speaking household and was one of the first in his family to go to college. And, like Luna, he received financial aid during medical school. For Orozco, not only did scholarships reduce the stress of educational debt, they also served as an affirmation that donors believed in him.
“Scholarships gave me a vote of confidence — people have faith in you, you can do this,” says Orozco. But, he says, the scholarships do something more: They create doctors who are visible role models for children and youth in underserved communities. The doctor’s presence is a subtle encouragement for kids, a reminder that everyone is welcome in the medical profession. “You need to have that visibility along the way,” Orozco says.
“In an ideal world, I would like to have students choose their school based on the institution itself, not how much it costs,” says the School’s chief diversity officer, Leo Morales, MD, PhD, FACP, another leader in creating the Committee for Minority Faculty Advancement Endowed Diversity Scholarship. “Students should have the freedom to choose the school that best suits their needs.”
Luna, who’s beginning his second year of medical school in Idaho, is interested in burn research and care. Although he hasn’t yet decided where his career will take him, he’s already living up to the aspirations of the scholarship and its founders.
He’s co-chair of the Latino Medical Student Association, which presented at several undergraduate university health conferences last year on careers in medicine. He also volunteers with organizations that encourage higher education for Latino youth and mentor students.
“I come from a family of people who want to serve others,” says Luna. He’s well on his way to honoring that tradition.