Pittsburgh has one of the smallest Latino populations in the United States, making up just under 3% of the total population. It’s small but growing. From 2000-2015 the Pittsburgh Latino population has grown by 28.2% In order to highlight Latino contributions, Cafe Con Leche created FUERZA, a celebration of Latino leadership in the Pittsburgh region. One of our favorite FUERZA nominees is Jose Miguel Juarez.
Jose Miguel Juarez is a first-generation Guatemalan American from Paterson, New Jersey. He completed his bachelor’s degree at the College of the Holy Cross, graduating with honors. After college Jose Miguel joined Teach For America, serving as a high school teacher in a low-income communities of color in Texas and Mississippi. Currently, Mr. Juarez is a third year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. His area of concentration is Global Health and Underserved Populations, and his area of research is pediatric otolaryngology at UPMC’s Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. He also volunteers as a paramedic for Operation Safety Net, bringing medical services to the homeless as well as a coordinator and medical translator for SALUD – Clinica Gratuita, a free Spanish language clinic. I spoke with him recently about becoming a doctor and what inspires him to work for the underserved. Here is that conversation.
HipLatina: What inspired you to become a doctor?
Jose Miguel Juarez: I was raised in a medically underserved neighborhood where access to health care was not possible for many families, including my own. From a young age, I had a very difficult time understanding why people were not able to receive the medical help that they needed. All around me, loved ones struggled with problems which only worsened, significantly affecting their quality of life. Issues that could have been stabilized, or prevented, developed into lifelong chronic issues and even early death. I am passionate about being a part of the movement to reduce, and one day end, disparities in health care.
HL: How do stay motivated in accomplishing your goals?
JMJ: I constantly remind myself of where I come from and where I aim to go by volunteering. These volunteer experiences keep me grounded and inspired to achieve my goal of becoming a physician.
HL: What was the biggest challenge you have (so far) overcome in your medical career?
JMJ: My biggest challenge was achieving a balance between my academic life and personal interests. I like being an active member of my Pittsburgh home by participating in various community events and community service activities. I believe that it is extremely important for a doctor to be an active member of his or her community, to be connected with various resources, and to always be informed about his or her city. The services that we provide to our patients should not end the moment that they step out of the office or hospital, but rather extend beyond our doors and into our community.
HL: In 10 years where do you see yourself and your career?
JMJ: My life’s journey has taken me from New Jersey to Massachusetts to Mississippi to Florida, and now to Pittsburgh. Having lived here for three years as a medical student and an active member of my community, I have become deeply fond of my home. In 10 years, my greatest dream is to serve here as a doctor and to join many others in making Pittsburgh a wonderful place to live for all.
HL: What advice do you have for Latinos who are considering applying to med school?
JMJ: We definitely need more Latino doctors! For all young Latinos who would like to pursue medicine, I recommend that you explore and feed this passion. It is important to start with understanding what attracts you to medicine. Shadow doctors, volunteer in a free clinic, take advantage of research opportunities. No two medical students share a single path. Create your own story, and have fun doing so.