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David Geffen School of Medicine

Promoting Exchange to Encourage Change

  Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua

Dr. Michael Rodriguez (left) with Freddy Meynard, dean of health sciences, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua.
Photo: Courtesy off Dr. Michael Rodriquez

Michael Rodriguez, MD ’88, MPH, is professor and vice chair for global health in the Department of Family Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, co-director of the University of California Global Health Institute Center of Expertise on Migration and Health and founding director of the UCLA Blum Center on Poverty and Health in Latin America. His research activities focus on health inequities, including violence prevention, chronic diseases, such as diabetes and obesity, and efforts to strengthen the health system and develop partnerships with other institutions and stakeholders. He has authored articles and lectured internationally on a wide range of health issues. He also collaborates with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Pan American Health Organization and the Inter-American Development Bank. Dr. Rodriguez mentors and teaches UCLA faculty and trainees from numerous schools while volunteering at a community health center serving uninsured patients in Los Angeles.

Today, UCLA is improving global health by nurturing a new generation of leaders and by providing clinical, research and humanitarian training for medical students, residents, fellows and faculty. When I attended medical school at UCLA, in the mid-late 1980s, global health was a concept not yet woven into medical training. As someone who identifies with Don Quixote’s sense of undertaking adventures for noble causes, I had the desire to make a difference beyond the boundaries of Westwood.

I am a child of immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador and the first in my family to graduate from high school. I grew up learning the value of advocating for the rights of disenfranchised communities to promote equity. During my second year of medical school, I acted on my strong commitment to support population-responsive medical pipelines by organizing a campaign to obtain donations for a new medical school in Managua, Nicaragua. The school, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN), was being built to address the need for more health professionals to serve the country. I became aware that the new medical school needed equipment for the students, so I solicited and received donations of microscopes and teaching slides, as well as a microtone and materials to make new slides, from UCLA, as well as from the UCLA departments of pathology and laboratory medicine and anatomy. The summer between my second and third years, I hand-delivered the equipment to UNAN and met the dean of the medical school. It is difficult to put into words the emotions I felt or the impact that this undertaking, and the support I received from the UCLA School of Medicine (now the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA), had on me. Certainly, this project set me on the path I have taken in my professional life.

Fast forward almost three decades, and I’m still promoting exchange to create positive change. In March 2014, in my role as founding director of the UCLA Blum Center on Poverty and Health in Latin America, I returned to Managua to meet with the current UNAN dean to establish a collaborative relationship between UNAN and the UCLA Blum Center to build health and training programs that will benefit the people of Nicaragua, as well as UCLA trainees. The dean took me by the same mango tree and the same office I visited 29 years prior. It was a déjà-vu experience. I feel I have come full circle and I am inspired to collaborate with colleagues at UCLA and other locations in the United States, Latin America and beyond. My goal is to identify and advocate for effective responses in health policy and practice in order to improve the health and healthcare in Latin America and in the areas to which those from Latin America immigrate.

To learn more about the UCLA Blum Center, go to: blumcenter.ucla.edu.


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