Santiago Diaz, MS3, wins an AAMC Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship

On November 14, 2016, at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) annual meeting in Seattle, WA, Santiago Diaz, MS3, was one of five students across the nation awarded with a Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship.

Herbert W. Nickens, MD, MA was the founding vice president of the AAMC Division of Community and Minority Programs, now the Diversity Policy and Programs Unit. His work had a significant positive impact on the support that underrepresented minorities in medicine receive, and the Nickens Scholarships aim to continue advancing Dr. Nickens’ “lifelong commitment to supporting the educational, society, and health care needs of racial and ethnic minorities.” Santiago was an ideal candidate for a Nickens Scholarship due to his accomplishments both within and outside of the classroom regarding the elimination of healthcare disparities.

Santiago and his parents with Holly J. Humphrey, MD'83

Santiago grew up in Reynosa, Mexico, before moving across the border to Hidalgo, Texas as a teenager. After overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers, he graduated as the valedictorian of the South Texas Academy of Medical Technology; he then matriculated at the University of Texas at Austin, from which he graduated with highest honors. Upon entering Austin, Santiago joined the Hispanic Health Professions Organization, where he volunteered taking blood glucose and pressure readings for patients and shadowed physicians. Later in his undergraduate career, he worked at the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic as a translator to Hispanic patients who did not speak English. These experiences were seminal to Santiago’s development as a physician and influenced his work here at Pritzker.

When Santiago entered our medical student Class of 2018, he immediately became active in medical service. He volunteered at the Community Health Clinic, one of our five student-run free clinics in underserved areas of Chicago, as an EMR coordinator and Spanish interpreter. Soon after matriculating, he was elected Treasurer of our chapter of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), through which he also served as a mentor for undergraduates in our college chapter.

Most impressively, between his first and second year, Santiago executed a summer project regarding disparities in care. During his first-year class on healthcare disparities, Santiago learned that the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) in Texas—his home community—has an incredibly low physician population; this contributes to exorbitant Medicare costs and a low quality of care for patients in the RGV. In fact, the RGV has one primary care physician for every 1,279 people, as opposed to the national average of one primary care physician for every 631 people. Shocked by these statistics, Santiago reached out to his mentor Kohar Jones, MD, for help submitting a proposal for Innovation Funding for a pilot program to be held at a South Texas high school. Santiago proposed that he would develop a curriculum to teach local students who are interested in healthcare professions about the disparities in care in their own community.

Santiago was awarded the funding, and in the summer of 2015, he went to the Harlingen School of Health Professions to teach 20 students during the three-day South Texas Health Disparities Youth Program he founded. He worked with doctors, researchers, and teachers from the community to lead these students in lectures, simulation exercises, lab tours, and medical school admissions workshops. Lectures included content on disparities in diabetes, obesity, and poor physician numbers. The workshop was so successful that in a survey given to participants after it ended, the majority of respondents wrote that they wished the program were longer and could support more student participants.

We are proud to have Santiago in our community and feel he is a truly deserving recipient of the national recognition of an AAMC Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship. Congratulations, Santiago!