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Providing a greater sense of home: IU residents start first Latinx Association for residents and fellows in the country

Maria Guarnizo Ortiz, MD and Eleazar Montalvan, MD speak at a media interview for the Indiana Latino Expo.

Maria Guarnizo Ortiz, MD and Eleazar Montalvan, MD speak at a media interview for the Indiana Latino Expo.

Group recently received SCOPY award for colorectal cancer awareness campaign

When Indiana University School of Medicine resident Eleazar Montalvan, MD, began his internal medicine residency program in 2021, he was excited to work with world-renowned physicians and faculty who have led major advances in the field of gastroenterology. But as an international medical school graduate, he quickly noticed a big difference from his time in medical school in Honduras.

“There weren’t any faculty that look like me. There wasn’t enough Latinx representation,” Montalvan said.

Montalvan works closely with Stephanie Cortes, MD and Mariel Luna, MD, two other residents from Latinx backgrounds who made the same observation. They decided to start an association for residents and fellows also from Latinx backgrounds to help connect with each other.

“We have a Multicultural Physicians Alliance at the school, but there wasn’t anything specifically for Latinos,” Montalvan said. “We wanted to help new trainees connect with each other right from the beginning of their intern year, and then also connect with medical students and faculty.”

Juana Tejada, MD; Stephanie Cortes, MD; Mariel Luna, MD; and Eleazar Montalvan, MD

Since the Latinx Association started meeting in 2022, they’ve grown significantly, with 18 members. They’ve also traveled to Washington, D.C. to present information about their organization as a quality improvement project. They found their group is the first Latinx Association of its kind in the entire United States.

“There are student associations and faculty associations, but nothing for residents and fellows,” Montalvan said.

The association keeps busy on top of residents’ and fellows’ already busy work schedules, spending time out in the community promoting health awareness for Latinx people in Indiana. Montalvan and the association, under the mentorship of IU School of Medicine distinguished professor Thomas Imperiale, MD, recently won a Service Award for Colorectal Cancer Outreach, Prevention and Year-Round Excellence (SCOPY) from the American College of Gastroenterology, a prestigious award given to groups for spreading the potentially lifesaving message of the importance of colorectal cancer screening and prevention.

“In Indianapolis, a lot of our patients are Spanish speaking and in backgrounds different than the majority of physicians,” Montalvan said. “The number of screenings for colorectal cancer is significantly lower for Latinos than any other race. So, we wanted to do something to help.”

The group reached out to local media with Spanish speaking audiences to talk about the importance of screenings in their own language. They emphasized resources available, like Spanish language interpreters and help navigating the health system, and information about how the screening process works.

“We wanted to explain that a colonoscopy is a simple and important procedure to detect and prevent cancer,” Montalvan said.

 Eleazar Montalvan, MD

Colon cancer is an area Montalvan has focused on researching throughout his residency training. Now, he’s also spending time researching how effective their colon cancer screening and prevention campaign was for the local Latinx community, finding an increase in Google searches in Spanish about colonoscopy in Indianapolis in the months after their campaign.

In the future, they hope to do similar campaigns, as well as increasing their connections with local Latinx organizations throughout Indiana to help their patients feel more comfortable and informed about important health concerns.

“Hopefully, the Latinx Association will create a pipeline to have better Latinx representation in different specialties across the university by creating a better sense of home for our Latinx residents and fellows, which will also help provide better care and sense of trust from our Latinx patients in Indiana," Montalvan said.

Learn more about the Latino Colorectal Cancer Initiative.

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.
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Christina Griffiths

Christina is the media relations specialist for the IU School of Medicine Dean's Office of Strategic Communications.