The National Hispanic Medical Association honored innovative leaders that contribute systematic change to Hispanic communities. 

By: Sarah Berjan

The National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) honored four community leaders at their 25th Annual Conference Leadership Awards Gala & Dance for advancing the health and the well-being of Hispanics in the United States. 

After two years of pandemic-induced social restrictions, the NHMA recognized leaders who were instrumental in innovation and systematic change leading to health equity in their mission to improve health and access to healthcare in Hispanic Communities.

“It’s heartwarming to know that we can all work together again and connect,” said NHMA President & CEO Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, MACP. 

The first Latino director of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality(AHRQ), Robert Valdez, Ph.D. was honored with the NHMA Hispanic Health Leadership Government Award for leading key-national programs that increased services. Valdez was appointed to his role at the AHRQ in February. 

“Dr. Valdez has been an academician, a researcher, a leader and has been with the federal government not once, not twice, but three times. The Clinton Administration wanted him, the Obama administration wanted him and now the Biden administration wants him. We are very proud of him,” Rios said. 

According to Rios, Valdez has championed medical research since his time as faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles and Rand Institute in the 1970s, and the University of New Mexico in the last decade. 

As an advocate for Latina women in corporate America, Congress, Federal Government, military and non-profit sectors in his 20 years leading LATINA Style Inc., President, and CEO Robert Bard received the corporate award. Over 600,000 professional Latinas read and participate in the LATINA Style magazine and programs. 

Bard is a nationally recognized speaker and expert on Diversity and inclusion committed to the journey of Hispanic professional women and has expanded the company into five programs to empower, support, and honor Latinas. 

“He does so much for our community by uplifting women. We all know our mothers and our grandmothers are the backbones of our families,” Rios said. “COVID-19 brought desperation, anxiety, morbidity, and mortality to our families, but he honored the women who kept our families going.”

As the pandemic wanes and the NHMA reunites after two years of social isolation and pandemic-indicated restrictions, Bard asked attendees to hug their neighboring colleagues. 

“The people in this room are some of the most courageous people in our country. You step to the front of the line to work in a difficult and dangerous place. We are also honored to work with investors in the military. We’re always honoring them for being a frontline in the service, but you have done the same. The work that you do is incredibly important to your family, the community, and your country,” Bard said.

Susana R. Morales, MD was honored for her career-long commitment to mentoring medical students and residents in New York City with the Physician award. She was recognized for her advocacy and leadership in organizations such as the Society of General Medicine, on several boards and programs. 

Born in New York City, Morales’ roots in healthcare stems back to her great-grandmother, who was a midwife from Puerto Rico but had died during childbirth. Morales shared that her grandmother interned in community service, like helping at a day-care center. Her father became a community organizer and a community advocate, and her mother was one of the first practitioners in the South Bronx. 

“I grew up around the table listening to them talk about their community health workers. Their advocacy and values shaped me and changed me to fight for justice.”It is a privilege to be in a position to know people through all of their adversities and their celebrations. We receive a lot from our patients; so much wisdom and love. We are truly blessed,” Morales said. 

Former NHMA fellows, Dr. Luis Agular and Dr. Raul de la Cadena were honored posthumously. On her father’s behalf, Tiffany Agular accepted his award. 

The NHMA recognized four outgoing members of the Board of Directors for their leadership and contribution to the growth of members and partners over the past six years.  The organization also honored outgoing chapter leaders for their local leadership to build linkages to physicians, reducents, and medical students in those areas. 

Concerning their growing membership, the NHMA has also honored members in chapters, young residents, and fellows with NHMS Awards of the year for their leadership.