Hispanic Heritage Month: Latino Doctors, Scientists & Educators

Posted by Scott Harrah
September 22, 2014

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (through October 15, 2014), the UMHS Endeavour brings you a look at Latino doctors, scientists and educators that made a difference.

Many (but not all) of the following are Latino Americans, but each one made significant contributions to medicine, science and math in the past century. We celebrate these Latino/Latina scientists, doctors and educations as an inspiration for all students at American and Caribbean medical schools.

Severo_Ochoa_1959-1Nobel Prize winner Severo Ochoa. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Severo Ochoa, Academic, Chemist, Scientist (1905-1993)

This Spanish-American biochemist and molecular biologist was co-awarded the 1959 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for “discovering an enzyme that enables the synthesis of RNA,” according to Biography.com.

DR. HELEN RODRIGUEZ-TRIAS: Latina pioneer in American medicine & public health. Photo: Jim Hansen/Wikimedia CommonsDr. Helen Rodriguez Trías, (1929-2001), First Latina President of the American Health Association

Dr. Trias was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York City. As a child, she experienced bias for simply being Latina and was “placed in a class with students who were academically handicapped, even though she had good grades and knew how to speak English,” according to Wikipedia. Dr. Trias later went on to graduate from medical school at Universidad de Puerto Rico with highest honors. Her accomplishments include founding the first center for newborn children in Puerto Rico and serving as Director of Pediatrics at Lincoln Hospital in South Bronx, NY. In addition, Dr. Trias went on to lead the New York City Department of Health Mental Hygiene. She helped “bring national attention to the devastation caused by HIV and AIDS among inner city mothers and children. In 1993, the American Public Health Association elected her their first Latina president.” (http://www.nps.gov/latino/latinothemestudy/sciencemedicine.htm).

(Photo, inset right) DR. HELEN RODRIGUEZ-TRIAS: Latina pioneer in American medicine & public health. Photo: Jim Hansen/Wikimedia Commons

Mario Molina, at the Nobel Laurate at Globalsymposium 2011 in Sweden, discussing climate change. Photo: Janwikifoto/Wikimedia CommonsMario Molina, Chemist, Scientist (1943–)

Mexican-born chemist Mario Molina won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for “his research on how man-made compounds affect the ozone layer.” Biography.com says he became interested in science at a young age, creating a chemistry laboratory inside a bathroom in his home.

He moved from Mexico to the USA in 1968 to work on an advanced degree in physical chemistry from the University of California-Berkeley. He later taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California-San Diego.

Mr. Molina received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama on November 20, 2013. From: Biography.com.

(Photo, inset right) Mario Molina, at the Nobel Laurate at Globalsymposium 2011 in Sweden, discussing climate change. Photo: Janwikifoto/Wikimedia Commons


Luis Federico Leloir. Photo: MaterialScientist/Wikimedia CommonsLuis Federico Leloir, Chemist, Scientist (1906–1987)

This French-born Latino scientist received the 1970 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovery and study of sugar nucleotides, ‘which help the body store certain sugars and transform them into energy,” says Biographyc.com. He established the Institute for Biochemical Research in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1947. From: Biography.com.

(Photo, inset right) Luis Federico Leloir. Photo: MaterialScientist/Wikimedia Commons




BERNARDO ALBERTO HOUSSAY: Won Nobel Prize in 1947Bernardo Alberto Houssay, Doctor, Physiologist (1887–1971)

This Argentinean-born pioneer became a doctor by age 23. Biography.com says “he founded an institute of physiology, but would be dismissed by President Juan Perón.” He won a Nobel Prize in 1947 for research on the role of pituitary hormones in the regulation of blood sugar. From: Biography.com.

(Photo, inset right) BERNARDO ALBERTO HOUSSAY: Won Nobel Prize in 1947. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Jaime Escalante, Math Educator (1930-2010)

This Bolivian-born teacher is renowned for his work with struggling math students. His story was chronicled in the 1988 Hollywood film, Stand and Deliver. He moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s and worked in inner-city schools. In 1974, he began teaching at a tough East L.A. school, Garfield High, and started an advanced math class, something unprecedented for Los Angeles Latino schools at the time.

Biography.com notes that in n 1982, Mr. Escalante’s “largest class of students took and passed an advanced placement test in Calculus.” When some students’ test scores were invalidated by testing company due to cheating allegations, “Escalante protested, saying that the students had been disqualified because they were Hispanic and from a poor school.”

Students were later allowed to retake the test and passed, proving the “cheating” claims were false. From: Biography.com.

Hispanic Heritage Month Online Resources

(Top image) Image: Deposit Photos

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Posted by Scott Harrah

Scott is Director of Digital Content at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City, StageZine.com.

Topics: Medicine and Health Health Equity

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