Latinas in STEM Health

By Christine Bolaños

The Association of American Medical Colleges reports a massive disparity between Latino physicians and Latino patients even though studies show that lack of language barriers, cultural competency, less judgment and bias, and more time for doctor visits lead to better diagnoses and overall better health for patients. It is the desire to close the gap that inspires Dr. Maria Montero and Dr. Nataly Manjarrez-Orduño – two outstanding Latina doctors in the Americas – to not only treat Latino patients but work to advance the medical field to better serve disenfranchised communities. Both medical professionals are from Mexico and say their heritage plays a critical role in informing their medical philosophies.

Dr. Maria Montero

Associate Director of Clinical Training, Orbis Flying Eye Hospital

Cataracts are the leading cause globally of avoidable blindness and vision loss but one Mexican eye doctor is on a mission to reverse this trend. Inspired to perform free cataract surgeries in underserved communities after witnessing the transformative impact a 15-minute procedure can have on a patient’s life and their family, Dr. Maria Montero serves as Associate Director of Clinical Training on the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, a fully-accredited nonprofit teaching hospital on a plane. The Flying Eye Hospital is operated by Orbis International, a global eye care nonprofit organization.

“This surgery restores vision, enabling individuals to return to work, become self-sufficient members of society, and reduce their reliance on family members for care,” Dr. Montero says. “I pursued a career as an ophthalmologist to wield this superpower and change lives.”

In this role, Dr. Montero supervises the ophthalmology department, oversees patient care, staffing, training, research and program implementation.

“Being from Latin America has helped a lot in my career with Orbis. The health system in Mexico is similar to those in many other low-to middle-income countries where Orbis works,” she says. “That helps me understand the system, how people think and how they react, and what resources they have available. I can help them do a better job with making the most of the resources that they have.”

But curbing vision loss isn’t the only superpower Dr. Montero has. She wears many hats as an ophthalmologist, surgeon, mother, role model, and mentor – and though these roles vary greatly — she performs them all with a service-minded heart. She credits her Mexican roots for instilling in her friendliness, warmth and compassion, which allow her to build deeper connections with patients and empathize with them on an emotional level.

In providing these critical surgeries to their patients, the medics at Orbis are leading the fight against preventable blindness and vision loss. Though cataracts are the leading cause globally of avoidable blindness, there is a shortage of eye doctors trained to address the issue. Through her role at Orbis, Dr. Montero is closing that gap one flight at a time.

Dr. Nataly Manjarrez-Orduño

Global Lead for the Organization for Latino Achievement (OLA) People and Business Resource Group Bristol Myers Squibb

Dr. Nataly Manjarrez-Orduño is another extraordinary Mexicana who successfully merged her scientific background with her passion for the role diversity and inclusion play in delivering transformative medicine to patients. In her current role as Global Lead for the Organization for Latino Achievement (OLA) People and Business Resource Group at Bristol Myers Squibb, OLA launched a mentorship program for Latino executives to mentor and coach emerging scientific leaders. This led to a 19 percent growth in membership and a 40 percent penetration among Latinos at BMS.

“Representation is very powerful, it shows you what you can become, that said, I am amazed at the work done by the younger generations,” she says. “They are breaking molds and creating their own paths, I salute them.”

She attributes her passion for mentoring and education to her maternal grandmother, an elementary school teacher in a rural Mexican community. “Every summer she opened the patio of her house and received the kids who weren’t doing well in school,” Manjarrez-Orduño recalls. “Over a few hours every morning, she assigned exercises, corrected grammar and so on.”

By the time she was in 4th grade, the future one-time immunologist was helping the younger children master their studies. Something that struck her was that her grandmother never charged a fee for tutoring because she believed everyone should have access to education.

“I didn’t know that this was mentoring and I am confident that living this way made mentoring just part of life for me,” Manjarrez-Orduño explains.

The values her grandmother instilled in her helped guide Manjarrez- Orduño towards a career in medicine before landing on biomedicine.

In her current role, Manjarrez-Orduño works with people throughout the United States, Latin America and Europe, to drive initiatives that improve health equity or increase the sense of belonging among BMS staff, with a special emphasis on the Latino segment.

“I realized that what I enjoyed the most was knowing how the body worked; that I didn’t want to prescribe medicines, but rather contribute to developing them, and that is how I decided to go to biomedicine,” she shares.