Marietta Vazquez ’90, a professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, has taken steps to connect the medical facility and her home.
Mai Chen 12:44 PM, Oct. 15 2021
Thanks to Marietta Vasquez
Marietta Vazquez ’90, a professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, has taken steps to connect the medical institution and the community she calls home.
Born in Puerto Rico, Vazquez first came to Yale as a college student and later returned as a pediatric resident after earning a medical degree from the University of Puerto Rico. Vazquez said acclimating to Yale presented many obstacles, most notably the feeling of being disconnected from home.
“There were a lot of challenges, including language. I was the only minority in my training program and I didn’t have role models with whom I shared a background and culture,” Vazquez said. “I felt like I was in the middle of it and didn’t know which way to go.”
In her 27 years of hard work, she has ensured that her roots are honored. During this journey, she has achieved many milestones: She became the first Latina to be named a voting member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices by the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the first Latina Vice Chair of the Division of Pediatrics, and now – in 2021 – the first Latina to be named associate dean at Yale School of Medicine.
Vazquez was also appointed to the board of the medical school in 2020. She was one of five new members to increase gender diversity and racial equality on the board. Paula Kavathas, one of the leaders of this initiative and professor of laboratory medicine, immunobiology, and molecular, cellular and developmental biology, emphasized that diversifying governance was a critical first step in increasing medical school inclusion.
“One goal is for the diversity of the board of directors to reflect the diversity of the clinicians that make up the medical group,” Kavathas said. “This requires a greater proportion of female seats at the YSM.”
Vasquez was inspired to connect two groups that felt they were quite distant from each other: the institution and the vibrant community she grew up in and calls her home. Realizing that her dual identity was a great asset, Vazquez came into contact with patients with whom she shares a similar identity.
“I have realized that a large part of my community is here now, and finding a cultural group with my language and work has allowed me to find the part I thought I gave up when I left Puerto Rico Vazquez said.
When she first heard of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI, as a space within the medical institution, it hit her like an ‘aha moment’, where an abstract feeling she was passionate about finally took real shape. .
For Vazquez, joining was an organic transition after experiencing experiences advocating diversity without acknowledging what it was. This was why she wanted to develop expertise and contribute to the DEI field.
“I’ve always been attracted to things that aren’t fully packaged and evolve to have space and a palace where people can work hard and be creative,” Vazquez said. “The field of DEI is evolving rapidly and I feel very privileged to be a part of helping develop educational components and strategies. It’s not a job, it’s a passion.”
In her role as DEI’s vice president of pediatrics, her efforts led that department to become the first to mandate diversity training.
Maryellen Flaherty-Hewitt, one of Vazquez’s colleagues and associate professor of clinical pediatrics, emphasized the importance of Vasquez’s initiatives to increase awareness of diversity training.
“I am proud to be a part of this pioneering department and honored to partner with Dr. Vazquez and other amazing educators and residents who were instrumental in making this training mandatory,” said Flaherty-Hewitt. “While having mandatory diversity training is important, I would say what I find even more impressive is that through Dr. Vazquez’s hard work, diversity and inclusion go beyond mandatory training and are truly embedded in the culture of our department. “
For Vazquez, building a strong foundation for discussions about diversity and inclusion is a top priority.
She said the first step in understanding DEI is to get acquainted with the concepts and vocabulary of the problem. Understanding each other’s values is only possible if everyone can process the conversations that take place.
“One of the first things I did was start training events in DEI,” said Vazquez. “The best bet for this cause is to say that we stand behind it and believe that every member of Pediatrics [Department] shouldn’t be taking care of patients unless they have these basic building blocks.”
Her goal for the next three to five years is to improve the inclusiveness of the medical school climate to ensure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds feel a sense of belonging. She feels that having difficult conversations is quickly becoming part of who the school is as a community and hopes to integrate that further into medical school.
One of her key pieces of advice is that students should come to Yale not just to study, but to consider the city of New Haven their home and assimilate into the community. She hopes she can show others the love she has for New Haven so that there is greater community involvement for students, faculty and staff.
“I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude and honor for those who came before me. For Latinos and women in medical school, pediatrics and leadership positions; and to all my mentors and sponsors who have helped me get to where I am,” said Vazquez. “I have benefited from walking the road they paved, and being a recipient once, I feel I must do the same for the next generation. I hope that when I look back on my career, I will have successors who see me as someone they can identify with and be inspired by.”
Mai Chen | firstname.lastname@example.org