7 Latina Doctors Who Made History and a Difference

 Throughout history, Latina doctors have played a vital role in improving health equity and access to care in the Latinx community

Latina Doctors

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 Throughout history, Latina doctors have played a vital role in improving health equity and access to care in the Latinx community. These women have fought against discrimination and inequality to provide better healthcare services for their communities. Dr. Antonia Novello, the first Latina U.S. Surgeon General and Dr. Jane Delgado, the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health are two examples of Latina doctors who have made a significant impact in healthcare. Through their leadership, advocacy, and dedication to public health, they have paved the way for a new generation of Latina doctors to continue their legacy of improving health equity for all. Here are seven remarkable women who have made a difference in the Latinx community and improved health equity.


Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor


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Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor made history by becoming the first Latina physician to travel to space and the second Latina to go into space in 2018. While working for NASA she spent six months conducting medical research on the International Space Station. During that time she worked on cancer therapy trials and experiments for Parkinson’s disease research. Auñón-Chancellor is of Cuban descent and studied medicine at  University of Texas Health Science Center and during her expeditions logged in 197 days in space.


Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trías


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Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trías was a Puerto Rican physician and women’s rights activist who dedicated her life to advocating for the health and well-being of underserved communities not just in the U.S. but across the globe. She played a key role in shaping public health policy in the United States, serving as the first Latina president of the American Public Health Association and as the director of the Office of Women’s Health at the US Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Rodriguez-Trías was a fierce advocate for reproductive rights and joined the effort to stop sterilization abuse common among poor women and women of color. In January 2001 she received the Presidential Citizen’s Medal for her work on behalf of women, children, people with HIV and AIDS, and the poor.


Dr. Antonia Novello


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Dr. Antonia Novello was first woman and the first Latina to serve as Surgeon General of the United States, a position she held from 1990 to 1993. She was born Antonia Coello in Fajardo, Puerto Rico and  attended the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine and graduated in 1970. During her career she focused on issues such as smoking cessation, childhood immunizations, and HIV/AIDS prevention, as well as healthcare reform to address health disparities in minority communities.


Dr. Nora Volkow


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Dr. Nora Volkow is  director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and has conducted groundbreaking research on the neurobiology of drug addiction, including the effects of cocaine and methamphetamine on the brain. Dr. Volkow’s work has helped to inform public health policy and treatment strategies. Dr. Volkow has used her position as director of NIDA to advocate for evidence-based approaches to addiction treatment and to raise awareness about the importance of addressing the root causes of addiction, such as trauma, poverty, and social inequality.  She was born in Mexico and earned her medical degree from the National University of Mexico in Mexico City, where she received the Robins Award for best medical student of her generation.


Dr. Catalina Esperanza Garcia


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Dr. Catalina Esperanza Garcia is a trailblazing Mexican American physician. She was one of the first Latinas to graduate from the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical School, and has since dedicated her career to improving access to quality healthcare for underserved communities. Dr. Garcia is the founder and CEO of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, a non-profit organization that works to advance health equity for Latino communities in California. “What I try to do is educate people,” Dr. Garcia previously told NBC. “No matter what culture you’re from, you have many of the same heartfelt feelings and needs and wishes and creations and dreams. We’re all so much alike when you get past our outside.”


Dr. Katherine Flores

Katherine Flores Headshot

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Dr. Katherine Flores was raised by Mexican immigrant grandparents and that led her to start working in the fields as a young child. This personal experience has given her an understanding of the unique challenges faced by Latinx and migrant communities and has driven her to work to address health disparities and promote health equity. As the founder and executive director of the Latino Physicians of California, Dr. Flores has been an advocate for policies and programs that support the health needs of Latinxs, including efforts to improve access to preventive care and reduce health disparities.She is currently a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.


Dr. Jane Delgado

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Dr. Jane Delgado is the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, a non-profit organization that provides resources and advocacy for Latinx health issues. She has been an advocate for culturally competent healthcare and has worked to increase access to health services for underserved populations. Delgado, who was born in Cuba and raised in New York, is a practicing clinical psychologist and has written several books including the Buena Salud series that’s in English/Spanish and focuses on common health issues. She received the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner’s Special Citation, the agency’s highest award for those who promote public health, in 2015.

In this Article

Antonia Novello Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trías Featured health equity Helen Rodriguez-Trías Jane Delgado Latina doctors Serena Auñón-Chancellor
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