On November 9, 2021, Drs. Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn and Denisse Rojas Marquez were presented with the 2021 Vilcek-Gold Award for Humanism in Healthcare. The award was introduced by Drs. Jan Vilcek, Richard Levin, and David Skorton at the 2021 Learn Serve Lead meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
The Vilcek-Gold Award for Humanism in Healthcare is a $10,000 award that recognizes immigrant healthcare professionals whose work demonstrates a commitment to providing care that is compassionate, equitable, and patient-centered. Latthivongskorn (born in Thailand) and Rojas Marquez (born in Mexico) received the 2021 award jointly for their leadership with Pre-Health Dreamers, and for their advocacy on behalf of undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Following their receipt of the award, the physicians presented a discussion titled “Breaking More Barriers, Together,” moderated by Dr. Darrell Kirch, president emeritus of the AAMC.
Learn, Serve, Lead
Latthivongskorn and Rojas Marquez’s discussion focused on undocumented immigrants and healthcare. The pair spoke about how their own experiences as immigrants and as healthcare providers have informed their approaches to their work. They also discussed the structural changes that are necessary to eliminate barriers so that healthcare, higher education, and careers in medicine are accessible to undocumented immigrants in the United States.
“I’m always thinking about how we can do better,” reflected Rojas Marquez. “How can we practice humanistic care when you have a system that makes it impossible to provide the full range of care that our patient population deserves? What would it mean for an institution to embrace and truly reflect and meet the needs of different patients?”
Latthivongskorn and Rojas Marquez met when they were both pre-med students at the University of California, Berkeley. As undocumented immigrants, the pair bonded over shared concerns about how they would approach the process of applying for medical school and pursuing licensure. With another classmate, Angel Ku, they began pooling resources.
“Once we started to find more students with the same goals as us, we realized there needed to be changes in policies,” said Latthivongskorn, “and in terms of people’s understanding about how to support undocumented students.”
The trio sought to network with other undocumented immigrant students. This initial network would eventually grow into Pre-Health Dreamers.
With these realizations, Latthivongskorn and Rojas Marquez began to expand the work of Pre-Health Dreamers into advocacy. Since being founded in 2012, Pre-Health Dreamers has partnered with schools, with the AAMC, and with legislators to create policies that make higher education and careers in healthcare more accessible to undocumented immigrants.
Humanism in Healthcare
Latthivongskorn and Rojas Marquez are both in the process of completing their residencies. Latthivongskorn is a family physician at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. Rojas Marquez is a resident in emergency medicine at Boston Medical Center. Despite the differences in their roles, they both center the values of humanism and culturally informed care in their work.
“Something core that I aim to keep practicing is trying to understand the unspoken barriers that are behind every patient’s journey to get better,” said Latthivongskorn.
“Regardless of immigration status, undocumented immigrants are human beings,” he said. “If healthcare providers believe that human beings should be able to be well and take care of their health, that is the core of how we should proceed and operate.”