- College of Medicine Communique Diversity
Iris Luceno’s eyes welled with tears as she saw her daughter Lisvet rip open her match envelope March 17 and accomplish her dream of becoming an OB-GYN resident physician at the University of South Florida.
“My mother is actually one of the reasons I chose to do OB-GYN,” the UCF medical student said. “She survived an obstetric complication and if it weren’t for the doctors she had, she wouldn’t have made it through. I’m grateful for those doctors and grateful for the opportunity to impact lives as well.”
Luceno was one of 123 UCF medical students who matched into residency programs across the country on National Match Day. And she was one of four Latina students who matched into OB-GYN and are eager to break cultural and language barriers in healthcare, particularly for women.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that Hispanic people will comprise nearly 25% of the U.S. population by 2045. Yet nationwide, the proportion of physicians who identify themselves as Spanish-speaking is less than 6%.
Luceno, a daughter of Cuban immigrants and the first in her family to graduate from college, knows all too well the struggles language barriers pose in accessing healthcare. While she was in middle school, her father was diagnosed with gum cancer. Since he understood little English, Luceno attended all of his doctor’s appointments as an interpreter. The experience not only piqued her interest in medicine but exposed her to the difficulties that language and cultural barriers pose in receiving quality healthcare.
“I’ve always wanted to work with Spanish-speaking patients so that I can take advantage of the gift I have of being bilingual and give back to the community that raised me,” she said.
UCF medical student Caridad Infante is also of Cuban descent and has dedicated much of her medical school journey to breaking barriers in reproductive health that disproportionately impact patients of color. She will train in OB-GYN at Baylor University in Waco, TX, a place she believes will continue to foster her passion for diversity.
“As a Latina, I see that not everyone has access to equitable healthcare and I really want to be the one to make a difference,” she said. “My mom taught me to always advocate for others and like UCF, I know that Baylor will be a great place for me to continue to do that.”
While interpreting for Spanish-speaking patients at the College of Medicine’s free clinics, Infante learned about the prevalence of “period poverty” among disadvantaged women. In response, she founded the UCF chapter of the PERIOD Organization that distributes menstrual hygiene products to free clinics across Central Florida. As president of the OB-GYN Interest Group at the medical school, she also organized menstrual health education workshops in schools and organized events highlighting disparities in women’s health.
For her efforts, she received the AMA Alliance Grassroots Physicians of Tomorrow Scholarship for students with a commitment to women’s health.
Medical student Oriana Krivenko, a first-generation student born in Venezuela, also matched into OB-GYN and will train at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. She cared for patients at all of UCF’s free clinics, including one that cares for farmworkers in Apopka, many of whom speak Spanish.
“I get a lot of satisfaction working with the underserved mostly because that is the narrative for my upbringing,” Krivenko said. “I am a first-generation immigrant and so there is nothing that brings me more satisfaction than caring for a population that looks like me.”
At Northwestern, Krivenko will care for patients at Cook County Hospital, one of the nation’s largest public hospitals. She said she is looking forward to that experience and hopes to continue to be a role model for Latina girls.
“I can’t believe sometimes that look up to me the way they do,” she said, “but I think it helps to keep me going and shows me that I need to be out there and show other little girls that they can be like me, even if they don’t have all the resources. Once they are headstrong, focus on their studies and enjoy what they do, then they can accomplish anything.”