Alvaro Tori, MD, on a mission to advance cultural competence and humility in medicine
Alvaro Tori, MD, recently named associate dean of diversity affairs for IU School of Medicine Faculty Affairs, Professional Development, and Diversity is passionate about making health care more inclusive and culturally competent. As a Latino immigrant and member of the LGBTQ community, his experience motivates him to foster an inclusive environment where everyone can see themselves.
Tori grew up in the capital city of Lima, Peru. From a young age, he wanted to be a pediatrician, graduating with his medical degree in 2001 from Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University. In 2002, he looked to the United States for residency opportunities, but the application process was an overwhelming experience. Tori had ten interviews in two weeks.
IU School of Medicine was his first choice as it housed one of the top pediatric residency programs. Out of all the interviews, IU is where he felt the most welcomed, accepted and respected. “It was a place where people could see you. I knew I could learn how to be a doctor anywhere, but it is hard to find a place where you feel seen and that was the most important thing to me,” said Tori.
However, another school surprisingly offered a pre-match. He panicked, unsure of how to respond due to his preference for IU School of Medicine. He called his mom, asking what to do. She answered with a question, “What does your heart tell you?” Tori responded, “My heart says I belong at IU.” So, he turned down the pre-match offer and waited. A couple of months later, he received the good news. He matched with the pediatric residency program at IU School of Medicine.
The first six months were intense. Visiting another country and making temporary adjustments for the sake of language and culture was one challenge. However, living and training to be a doctor in another country proved to be an endeavor. Furthermore, the differences were not merely circumstantial. “I felt different. I’m an immigrant, Latino and gay. At first, I was afraid my identities would hold me back. Soon enough, I realized that the things I thought were holding me back are the most powerful strengths I bring to the table.”
Soon enough, he started hosting a monthly Spanish-speaking radio program, Preguntale al Pediatra (Ask the Pediatrician), funded by the Dyson initiative. His mentors for the show were Deanna Reinoso, MD and Sarah Stelzner, MD. Tori had an opportunity to meet many guest speakers who were doing great work in culturally competent healthcare.
His conversations on the radio spilled into everyday life. He actively engaged in discussions around diversity as a medical professional and chose to be open about who he is, especially as a gay man. “You never know who is listening or watching. There may be someone, whether a colleague, patient, or trainee, who is struggling with who they are. And seeing someone like me, they might be encouraged by my story.” He spent his final year in residency as chief pediatric resident, where he provided input to cultural competency and humility training in the curriculum.
After completing the pediatric residency in 2007, he joined IU School of Medicine as a faculty member at the division of pediatric critical care medicine in the department of pediatrics. He went on to become chair of the code blue committee and the medical director of respiratory care. Tori also started working with the residency program as a liaison for the pediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU) rotation.
“I love working at IU School of Medicine. My top priority is my family, and being here allows me to have a work-life balance,” said Tori. “This institution allows me to do what I love — making a difference that impacts the school, patients, and the broader community.”
In 2014, a mentor encouraged him to apply to be an assistant dean for diversity affairs. While serving in that role, Tori worked on a variety of initiatives across race, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, religion, socio-economic status, age, geography of origin and residence, sexual orientation, disability, work style and other aspects of human attributes and behaviors.
“When Alvaro joined the diversity team in 2014, I quickly realized that he is a highly strategic, institutional thinker. He benefited for many years from the close mentorship of Mary Guerriero Austrom, PhD, and before she passed away, Mary and I spoke about Alvaro being her successor with complete confidence that he will provide exceptional leadership of the team going forward,” said Mary E. Dankoski, PhD, executive associate dean for Faculty Affairs, Professional Development, and Diversity. “I am excited to see him build upon the outstanding work of Dr. Austrom and the collective efforts of our team.”
Tori, reflecting on the legacy of his predecessor, said, “Mary [Austrom] was an inspiration, as a professional and as a human being. She trusted all of my ideas and took the time to help me navigate a pathway to execution. Having her trust and friendship was one of the greatest honors in my life.”
Tori approaches his new position with great enthusiasm knowing that “. . . the job will never be done. However, it is important to get to a point where everyone is represented, welcomed, included, and respected. So when trainees and learners walk through the hallways and see people like themselves on the walls and amongst the faculty, they will have the confidence that they can do it as well. Additionally, if patients can see themselves reflected in the health care workforce, they can be more confident that their providers understand them. If we can make a dent in that, then IU School of Medicine has made a lasting difference in health care.”
Tori is proud to be on the planning committee for the LGBTQ Health Care Conference sponsored by IU School of Medicine (one of the few medical schools in the country to host such a conference). “The LGBTQ patient population is marginalized in health care, while some of this is due to discrimination by providers, more often than not, it is a consequence of lack of knowledge, training, and research. It is our responsibility as a medical school to lead the way in providing care and listening to the LGBTQ community. The support of Dean Hess on these types of initiatives is essential and we are grateful for his commitment,” said Tori.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.