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Latinx medical students spread awareness about COVID-19 in Milwaukee's Latinx community

Flyers and Masks Being Handed Out
Latino Medical Students Association of Medical College of Wisconsin
Flyers and face masks being handed out by the Latino Medical Students Association at an outreach event.

In Wisconsin, the Latinx population has more COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people than any other racial or ethnic group. On Milwaukee’s south side, they’ve seen more cases than any other area in the city.

The Latino Medical Student Association chapter at the Medical College of Wisconsin responded to this by connecting directly with Milwaukee’s Latinx communities. They are working to dispel myths about COVID-19, provide information on the vaccine, and serve as a resource for underserved communities in both English and Spanish.

Ana Maria Viteri and Jessie Duarte are co-presidents of the Latino Medical Student Association chapter at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Raquel Valdes is a community service co-chair for the chapter. Viteri, Duarte, and Valdes are all second year medical students.

Viteri shares why the Latino Medical Student Association started doing outreach on Milwaukee's south side.

"I have always had very strong ties with our Hispanic Latinx community. And it was really important for me as a medical student. I think my intentions and probably all of our intentions are to give back to our community, to give back to our Latinx and our Hispanic and underserved communities of color," says Viteri.

Duarte adds that the Latino Medical Student Association recognizes that overall, under 6% of physicians are Hispanic or Latino in the U.S. Also, Hispanic and Latino groups have the highest uninsured rate in the U.S. Additionally, patients who see physicians who look like them and speak like them can significantly impact how they understand their health, says Duarte.

"Knowing that COVID affected us disproportionately, as far as infection rates and deaths, we felt motivated to get out there in our community, even if it was a small difference. We wanted to be a source of information," says Duarte.

Something Duarte noticed is that people are still changing their mind and they want more information. He says most patients ask if their physicians are vaccinated and when they find out providers are, patients become more likely to consider the vaccine.

"This is like a very complex situation, which even people in the medical community perhaps don't understand. So we try to just break it down to them to a level where they're more understanding," says Duarte.

Valdes says a common theme in most conversations regarding physician and patient relationships is meeting people where they are. For instance, younger individuals might prefer English, while older individuals prefer Spanish.

"I think community members are very grateful that we, medical students, are out there talking with them about these issues. People are getting a lot of information from a lot of sources ... and that can feel pretty overwhelming," says Valdes. "But I think having people that look like them [and] speak their language is definitely a very important aspect," says Valdes.

One of the most important parts of having a dialogue surrounding COVID-19 is making sure patients know they are being heard. In collaboration with the United Community Center and other local organizations, the Latino Medical Students Association plans to host future outreatch events within the community.

"The United Community Center has played an instrumental role in all of this work. We are going to start to reach [out to] our community again this upcoming year of 2022. [We will] get the word out again to talk about all of these things that we just mentioned and to continue to make sure that our community is protected, safe, and gets the vaccine," says Viteri.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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