Ángela Gutiérrez: What Éxito! Means to Me, a Latina PhD and Researcher

Dr. Ángela Gutiérrez has always been passionate about health disparities research.

“I had previously worked on health disparities research focusing on diabetes, fibromyalgia among Latinx communities, and I’ve done a lot of community-based research,” Gutiérrez said.

So when the opportunity arose to apply to Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training at UT Health San Antonio, Gutiérrez was thrilled to learn more.

“It was through Éxito! that I realized the prevalence and importance of focusing on cancer disparities as well, not just focusing on diabetes and fibromyalgia,” Gutiérrez said.

Participating in Éxito! helped Gutiérrez apply and get accepted to a PhD program in Community Health Sciences at the Fielding School of Public Health of the University of California at Los Angeles, where she graduated in 2020. Now she is becoming a leader in reducing cancer health disparities.

Connecting with Other Latino Professionals at Éxito!

Gutiérrez is now an assistant professor in the Department of Social Medicine at The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Her research program focuses on multi-dimensional profiles of coping, risk and resilience among Latino communities and community-based health research.

Her time in Éxito! provided her with invaluable connections that helped lead her academic journey to where she is today.

“It was a great experience, not just because I got to network with people, but because I got to network with such a diverse range of people, that was really valuable,” Gutiérrez said.

Ángela Gutiérrez: What Éxito! Means to Me, a Latina PhD and Researcher

Éxito!, led by Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio, recruits 25 master’s-level students and health professionals annually for a culturally tailored summer institute in San Antonio, Texas, optional internships, and ongoing education to promote pursuit of a doctoral degree and cancer research career.

One of the most valuable aspects of Éxito! for Gutiérrez was meeting researchers at different places in their career.

“I remember flying out to Texas and being in a space where I was able to connect with a network of researchers, who were also very committed to advancing health equity and to reducing health disparities. I was able to be connected with the network of masters level or very early career folks, all of us who were the trainees in the program, but then also the panelists, the guest speakers and mid-career or senior level folks who already had a long track record of working to reduce health disparities in advance health equity,” Gutiérrez said.

Once it was time to apply to PhD programs, she already had a foot in the door.

How Éxito! Helped Gutiérrez Apply for PhD Programs

Applying to PhD programs is no easy feat.

But it can be particularly difficult for people who don’t come from academic backgrounds, don’t have connections in academia or mentors from the same background, or those lacking the monetary resources to apply.

These barriers particularly impact Latinos and other people of color who are historically underrepresented in research, nursing, and doctoral fields.

In fact, Latinos earn just 3.9% of all science and engineering doctoral degrees conferred, according to the National Science Foundation.

Éxito! aims to increase that number.

For Gutiérrez, Éxito! was crucial in navigating the application process and connecting her to other Latino cancer researchers.

Ángela Gutiérrez: What Éxito! Means to Me, a Latina PhD and Researcher

“The Éxito! program really helped clarify the different components of applying to doctoral programs, and they even reviewed the statement of purpose that we were going to submit. It was a draft, but still, it was so helpful to get that one-on-one feedback. When it came to applying and it was my first round of applying to doctoral programs, I knew what to expect because of Éxito!, because they had prepared us so well,” Gutiérrez said.

Éxito! made the experience much more manageable for Gutiérrez.

“Being part of the Éxito! [Summer Institute] was a really great experience. It helped me navigate the unknown,” Gutiérrez said.

Her Advice for Latino Students

Gutiérrez hopes that Latino students pursue academia will keep being persistent when applying to programs and take advantage of personal connections in the field.

“Just keep going. Definitely network with folks, whether it be peers, early career, mid-career, senior level folks. Each person has unique expertise that they can contribute and share with you down the road,” Gutiérrez said.Ángela Gutiérrez: What Éxito! Means to Me, a Latina PhD and Researcher

She also recommends keeping an eye open for sources of funding, whether it’s to pay off student debt or help fund future research.

“Applying for funding is so important. Even before you apply to doctoral programs, start looking for funding and the whole time you’re in a doctoral program. Also keep looking for pockets of money because that will be really critical in terms of setting up a track record that you are able to secure funding to support your research program. I’d really encourage folks to remember that there are funding mechanisms out there, and it’s just a matter of doing our best to actively look out for those,” Gutiérrez said.

Learn More About Éxito!

Of 226 Éxito! trainees since 2011, over 25% have enrolled in or, like Gutierrez, graduated from a doctoral program.

Also, the Éxito! summer institute significantly increased trainees’ confidence to apply to a doctoral program and academic self-efficacy, according to a 2019 study of Éxito! program results published in the Journal of Cancer Education. The study also found significant increased research skills among Éxito! interns.

In 2018, Éxito! was named an innovative “Program to Watch” in a report by Excelencia in Education, a national group that promotes Latinos in higher education. The group also includes Éxito! as part of its “Growing What Works Database.”

Excelencia also selected Éxito! as a finalist for its “Examples of Excelencia” award in 20182019, and 2021.

Go to www.exitotraining.org for more information.

How Can I Advocate for Latinos in Healthcare?

You can make a difference by advocating for health equity in your own community.

Select your county name and get a customized Health Equity Report Card from Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio, which shows your area stacks up in housing, transit, poverty, health care, food, and other health equity issues compared to your state and nation.

The Health Equity Report Card auto-generates local data with interactive maps and comparative gauges, which can help you visualize and explore health inequities.

Latinos in healthcare like Gutiérrez may also face barriers and bias when working in the industry.

Did you know that doctors have implicit, subconscious preferences for white patients over those of color?

This is implicit bias.

These biases — stereotypes that affect our understanding and decisions about others beyond our conscious control — lead to discrimination and health disparities.

Fortunately, implicit bias can be “rewired” for compassion for patients of color.

Download the free Salud America! Action Pack “Health Care Workers and Researchers: Find If You Have Implicit Bias and What to Do Next.”


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