14 Powerful Hispanic Contributions to Medicine
Have you ever thought about the Hispanic contributions to medicine and science?
I have to be honest with you: as a Hispanic woman, I have never thought about it! I know some important figures in my country, but I never thought so many important events in medicine were actually led by Hispanics!
After reading about so many Hispanic contributions to the world, I felt inspired, and now I want to share with you those that impacted me the most!
So, let’s learn about the most important Hispanic contributions to science and medicine, who they were, what they did and how it changed our world and history.
14 Hispanic Contributions to Medicine
There are at least 2.2 million Hispanics involved in the medical field in the United States, and so many more around the world that one list is not enough to cover all the incredible contributions they bring to the table.
But, that doesn’t mean we can choose the most inspiring and powerful ones, which is what I did for this list!
Please check out the 14 most impressive Hispanic contributions and contributions in the Medical field that have changed our society and history.
And if you are interested, read our list of 11 Famous Hispanic Scientists Who Changed the Course of History!
1. M.D. Carlos Juan Finlay (1833-1915)
“Carlos, a humane man who often took on patients who could not afford medical care, later went on to become the chief health officer of Cuba from 1902 to 1909.”- lbock/Science Blogs
Born in Cuba during 1833, Carlos Juan Finlay was one of the Hispanic pioneers in medicine who knew first hand the horrors that yellow fever could cause thanks to its terrifying symptoms as well as its mortality rate.
For years, experts thought that the cause was filth in the air or clothing, and this led them to treat their yellow fever patients with well intended, but incorrect treatments.
Doctor Finlay began to realize that there were some relation between the outbreaks of yellow fever and the increase of mosquito population in the places where it detonated, and in 1881 he presented his theory in Havana and Washington, D.C, but was met with ridicule and skepticism.
But in the late 1880s he was sought out by the U.S Army, because during his time in war with Cuba, the United States lost more men because of the fever than the war. With this opportunity Dr. Finlay was able to prove his theory when the control of mosquitoes helped in reducing the transmission of the fever, which was one of the biggest Hispanic contributions to the United States.
His discovery was accepted in the year 1900 and soon the yellow fever was completely eradicated from Cuba and Panama thanks to his discovery and effective mosquito control.
2. M.D. José Celso Barbosa (1857-1921)
“Black! Black! Black! I am proud of being a Negro. Nor have I ever tried to beg tolerance from anyone. Superiority is not proved by color, but by the brain, by education, by willpower, and by moral courage.” – Jose Celso Barbosa
José Celso Barbosa was a Puerto Rican man born in 1857 who paved the path in the medical field so minorities and people of color can have the opportunity to not only be part of it but thrive in it.
During his youth Barbosa lived in Puerto Rico, and he was encouraged by his aunt “mama Lucía” to seek an opportunity to study in New York, so he moved there. While living there, he got sick with pneumonia, and that made him get interested in medicine.
But Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons rejected his application, because they “decided to nor receive students of color.” But that didn’t deter Barbosa and he kept pushing for his education, and in 1880 he became the first Puerto Rican to receive a medical degree in the United States, even graduating as Valedictorian!
He returned to Puerto Rico, and he became an early advocate for the island and employer-backed health care.
3. MD. Bernardo Alberto Houssay (1887-1971)
“The nutritive substances used in greatest quantities by mammals are carbohydrates.” – Bernardo A. Houssay
Born in Argentina in 1887, Bernardo Alberto Houssay became a doctor at 23 years old.
Thanks to his work in 1947 on a research about the role of pituitary hormones and how they affect the regulation of blood sugar he received a Nobel prize in Medicine, as well as the recognition of institutions as Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and other prestigious universities.
4. M.D. Severo Ochoa (1905-1993)
“Among the great names that adorn the role of Nobel prize-winners in Medicine is that of Otto Meyerhof, my admired teacher and friend, to whose inspiration, guidance and encouragement I owe so very much.” – Severo Ochoa
Severo Ochoa was born in Spain in 1905, and later moved to the United States, where he became a citizen, so he is recognized as an Hispanic American. He made one of the most important Hispanic contributions to medicine.
His research led to a better understanding on how humans metabolize carbohydrates and fatty acids, helping in the development of vitamin B and multivitamins supplements that are so popular and useful today to transform food into energy.
He had a lot of knowledge about biochemistry and molecular biology, and his passion about the study of enzymes led him to the discovery of an enzyme that synthesizes ribonucleic acid (RNA), which led to breaking the human DNA code, helping to find more answers about human genetics.
In 1959 he became the first Hispanic American to win a Nobel prize in physiology or medicine thanks to his RNA discoveries, and this is the reason why he is known as “the man behind RNA.”
5. PhD. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde (1920-2010)
“Dr. Murillo-Rohde dedicated her life to enhancing the quality of healthcare for underrepresented communities while equipping other Hispanic nurses with the skills to do the same.” – Google for her tribute
Idaura Maurillo-Rohde was born in Panamá in 1920 and thanks to her work and passion as an advocate, nurse, therapist and educator, she was known as “the Hispanic whirlwind.” She is one of the most important Hispanic women who has made an enormous impact in the world!
Talk about a powerhouse of a woman!
She studied nursing in San Antonio, Texas, and then pursued a degree in education and psychiatric nursing, which led her to write about several topics during her career.
She became the first Hispanic dean of nursing at New York University and created the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) with the goal of attracting Hispanic people to nursing and to support their unique concerns about the communities they serve.
She was declared a Living Legend in 1994 by the American Academy of Nursing.
6. M.D. Baruj Benacerraf (1920-2011)
“My interest was directed, from my medical student days, to Immunology, and particularly to the mechanism of hypersensitivity.” – Baruj Benacerraf
Born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1920, Baruj Benacerraf and his family moved to Paris in 1925 and then to the United States in 1940.
Benacerraf studied Science at the University of Columbia and then Medicine in Virginia. Thanks to his work he was chosen as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science.
In 1980 he won a Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering genetically determined structures on the cell surface that regulate immune reactions, but he also won a lot of other prizes, like the Rous-Whipple prize in 1985, the National Science Medal in 1990, the Gold-Headed Cane Award in 1996 and the Charles A. Dana prize for his pioneer work in health and education.
7. M.D. Helen Rodriguez Trías (1929-2001)
“No one is going to have quality of life unless we support everyone’s quality of life.” – Helen Rodrigez-Trias
Born in Puerto Rico, Helen Rodrigez Trías became one of the most important Hispanic women in medicine.
She and her family moved to New York during her childhood, and as a child, she suffered from bias and stigma because of her origins, to the point she was placed in a class with students with learning disabilities, without caring for her good grades and that she was able to speak English. But that didn’t stop her and years later she graduated from medical school at the University of Puerto Rico with honors.
During the 1970’s she worked with women who were coerced by the government in the United State to undergo sterilization, specially minority and disabled women. This fact led her to co-found the Campaign to End Sterilization Abuse and help create strict federal guidelines for consent for medical procedures. Later in her career, she worked with mothers and children who suffered from HIV and AIDS, and became the head of the New York State Department of Health’s and AIDS Institute.
In 1993 she became the first Latino woman to be president at the American Public Health Association, where she used her voice to talk about issues like health equality and women’s rights.
What a woman!
8. PhD. César Milstein (1923-2002)
“Yet, as always, the highlights of tomorrow are the unpredictabilities of today.” – Cesar Milstein
Caesar Milstein was born in Argentina in 1923, and he won the Nobel Prize in 1975 for his study on monoclonal antibodies and how they can help in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. He is one of the most important latino scientists of all time!
While the discovery was a novelty during his time, it is still relevant to this day, especially with the global pandemic of COVID-19. His technique for mass production of monoclonal antibodies is used to create lab versions of proteins that the humans can produce naturally to protect themselves against viruses and pathogens. His theory and work were considered to find short-term protection for the virus.
9. M.D. Antonia Novello (1944-)
“Service is the rent that you pay for living.” – Antonia Novello
Born in Puerto Rico in 1944, Antonia Novello lived her childhood on the island, where she suffered from a congenital digestive condition that was really expensive to treat. Thanks to that experience, she was motivated to study medicine.
She studied Medicine in Puerto Rico, and after trying to work as a pediatrician, she instead decided to pursue a career in public health, where she worked her way up in the National Institutes of Health and became one of the most prominent latino doctors of history.
In 1990 she became the first woman and the first Hispanic to become surgeon general, a position she used to protect all vulnerable people that need medical attention, especially the youth. She was not shy to address issues as underage drinking and how smoke ads were targeted to children.
10. M.D. Salvador Moncada (1944-)
“We want Honduras talent not to go to waste.” – Salvador Moncada
Born in Honduras, Salvador Moncada is one of the most important exponents of science and medicine in the country.
He studied medicine in the University of El Salvador and then got his PhD in pharmacology at the Institute of Basic Medical Science of the Royal College of Surgeons in the United Kingdom.
Thanks to his research, we know now that small doses of aspirin can be helpful to avoid cardiovascular issues, and he was also behind the discovery of medicines like lamotrigine, atovaquone and zoning.
11. MD. Julio Frenk (1953-)
“Studying medicine, public health, and education has given me the opportunity to try and leave this world better than I found it.” – Julio Frenk
Born in Mexico but with immigrant grandparents, Julio Frenk was always grateful for the opportunity Mexico gave his family to thrive.
He studied Medicine and thanks to his amazing career he served as dean of the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health and as Mexico’s Minister of Health.
He expanded health care to more than 55 million uninsured Mexicans, as well as he encouraged students and people of his faculty to address difficult topics like poverty, humanitarian crises, failing health systems, social and environmental dangers and pandemics to understand the greatest health issues humanity faces.
12. PhD. Jane Delgado (1953-)
“For me, living a good life is about one thing, making a positive difference in the lives of others.” – Jane Delgado
From Cuban descent, Jane Delgado knew from a small age that she wanted to pursue a career in psychology, and she did!
After graduating, she promoted minority health at the Department of health and Human services, where she made contributions to the first effort by the United States to actually work on a solution for health disparities.
She also battled racial and ethnic inequities, taught others about how to care for their health and led the National Alliance for Hispanic Health as its first female president.
13. MD. Nora Volkow (1956-)
“Drug addiction is a disease.” – Nora Volkow
Born in Mexico in 1956, Nora Volkow is one of the most prominent psychiatrists of all time.
She began her career in Mexico, as a medical student, and that’s where she first came face to face to the difficulties that drug abuse produces in people, where she would have to attend addict patients for their ailments to only send them back with their addiction still.
In 1981 she traveled to New York to study her residency in psychiatry, where she was able to access a positron emission tomography. This fact excited her thanks to the possibility of seeing how the brain could actually work.
She has published more than 780 reviewed scientific papers and has led the National Institute of Drug Abuse since 2003. Her work has centered on addiction, obesity and metabolism. We have to thank her for one of the most important Latino contributions to medicine.
14. M.D. Serena Auñon-Chancellor (1956-)
“What people don’t realize is that… 70% of that [research] is to specifically benefit health down here.” – Serena Auñon-Chancellor
From a Cuban father and American mother, Serena Auñon-Chancellor was born in Indiana in 1956.
She studied at McGovern Medical School in Texas, and got her masters degree in Galveston. But she also became an astronaut in 2011!
She became the first Hispanic physician to travel to space to conduct research related to Parkinson’s disease and cancer. And while her achievements in Space are impressive, she is a down-to-earth woman, who has been taking care of COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began in 2020, where her experience as an astronaut and as a doctor have come to be really useful.
Article to learn about even more Hispanics in Medicine and their contributions here.
Learn Spanish and Leave Your Mark on the World
Did you know that according to a study conducted by The Economist, a person can earn anywhere from $50,000 to $125,000 extra just by knowing a foreign language alone? That means that you can make some sweet extra money by just learning Spanish!
In whatever field you work or study in, like medicine or science, you might find Hispanics and Latinos. There are approximately 53 million people who speak Spanish in the United States, making it the second-largest Spanish speaking country in the world. According to CNN, there are 41 million native Spanish speakers in the US who speak Spanish in their homes.
That means that during your whole life and career, there is a great possibility you may encounter Latino and Hispanos and you can make a difference along with them to change the world, just like the stories we learned about today.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up today for a free 1-to-1 class with a certified native Spanish-speaking teacher at Homeschool Spanish Academy. Check out our programs and take a peek at our affordable prices and begin this new adventure with us!
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