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IU School of Medicine celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month: MD Student Sydney Rivera shares her experiences

Sydney Rivera hiking in Ecuador

This is the second installment in a series of blog posts to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Each year, National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from September 15 to October 15, celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The dates are significant because many Latin American countries celebrate their independence days during this 30-day period.



Meet Sydney Rivera, Class of 2022

How her heritage and cultural learning experiences are influencing her career path in medicine

Whether working as a physician in the United States or abroad, Sydney Rivera knows she will be using her training in medical Spanish and her cultural understanding of Hispanic populations. Not only does she have a Hispanic heritage herself, but she also has explored other cultures on medical mission trips and through the Care of Hispanic/Latino Patients Scholarly Concentration program at Indiana University School of Medicine.

MD student Sydney RiveraFrom her Dominican side of the family, she carries with her a strong work ethic, moral compass and passion for helping people. Her father immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic when he was 17 years old. He worked his way through college and then served his new country in the U.S. military for 25 years.

“I am so proud of his consistent hard work and strong values,” said Rivera, a member of the IU School of Medicine Class of 2022. “My entire Dominican side of the family is so vibrant, passionate and loving. I appreciate and admire their strong sense of community, family and faith that is central to their daily life.”

Rivera earned her master’s in public health (MPH) from Purdue University before enrolling at IU School of Medicine, where she is in her third year of doctoral studies on the West Lafayette campus. In the Care of Hispanic/Latino Patients Scholarly Concentration, medical students learn how to provide culturally sensitive medical care with a goal of improving health care for the nation’s Hispanic/Latino populations.

Rivera’s participation in this scholarly concentration gives her additional opportunities to learn about cultural and language differences of the various Hispanic populations. She currently is working on a scholarly project which evaluates disparities in care that are often experienced by Spanish-speaking children with speech disorders.

“Even before starting the scholarly concentration program, I was very interested in exploring public health issues and improving my medical Spanish,” said Rivera, who helped develop a study abroad program in the Dominican Republic for undergraduate students at Purdue.

Sydney Rivera with a midwife and colleague in EcuadorLast summer, Rivera further expanded her knowledge of Hispanic culture with an immersive experience in Ecuador. She and several other IU School of Medicine students participated in a program run by Child Family Health International, the leading non-governmental organization placing health science students into global health education programs. Rivera served alongside various Ecuadoran health care professionals while furthering her medical Spanish language skills and living with a host family. Particularly memorable to Rivera was her experience shadowing a midwife (called a “partera”) in the town of Otavalo.

“Many indigenous prenatal and birthing practices are still used, and 90 percent of their births are done vertically—with the woman standing rather than in the lithotomy position used in the United States,” Rivera observed.

While she doesn’t yet know the path her career in medicine may take, Rivera is certain her experiences will benefit those she serves.

“Having experienced or learned about various aspects of Hispanic cultures—through travel, my family history and the scholarly concentration—helps me connect with patients to make them feel more comfortable in the clinical setting,” she said.

Her Hispanic heritage is an important part of who she is and who she is becoming as a future physician.

“The Dominican people know how to make people feel at home and cared for, no matter where they come from,” she said. “They inspire me to bring that same level of interest and attention to each of my patients.”


Read more about how the Care of Hispanic/Latino Patients Scholarly Concentration is equipping IU School of Medicine students to combat health care disparities, and find the next installment in this Hispanic Heritage Month series here.

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.

Laura Gates

Laura is a senior writer with the Office of Strategic Communications. A native Hoosier, she has 25 years of experience in communications, having worked with newspapers and other media organizations in Indiana and Florida, along with small businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations. Before joining IU School of Medicine in January 2020, she was editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine serving the community of Estero, Florida.