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Juanita Mora recalls the exact moment that inspired her to be a doctor.
Her mother had fallen ill with kidney disease. A young Mora served as translator between her Spanish-speaking mother and her English-speaking doctor.
“I remember turning to my mom and saying ‘Mommy, why does it take so long to see the doctor?’ And she turns around and says, ‘Because there’s not enough doctors who speak Spanish,’” Mora recalled.
Mora went on to earn her doctorate in medicine, becoming a highly accomplished physician and making a difference for her patients in their own language.
As a leader in the field of allergy and immunology and a fellow with the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), she is delivering culturally competent care and practicing infection control to prevent the spread of disease.
Pursuing Her Dreams
Mora is the oldest of five children. She grew up in the predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood of Pilsen in Chicago.
As a first-generation Mexican American, born and raised in Chicago, Mora worked hard to chase her dreams with the support of her family.
“I was blessed to have parents that pushed my dreams. Even though we were modest, and humble, my parents never said, ‘You can’t do that’,” Mora said.
Mora was encouraged by a teacher to find more educational opportunities by attending Lane Tech College Prep High School.
There, another teacher recommended she attend the University of Chicago, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
Eager to start a path to medicine, Mora met with a college counselor to discuss her plans.
However, she received pushback.
“This is my first time meeting her and she was like, ‘Juanita, you’re a first generation. You come from a humble background. Maybe you should think of nursing school rather than medical school,’” Mora recalled.
Mora, dejected, left the counselor’s office.
She went straight to her parents for advice. Her mother told her: “Well, if you’re going to let one person destroy your dreams, you’re not my daughter. This is your dream, no one can tell you to do something else.”
Redetermined to follow her dreams, Mora continued her education at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, where she earned her doctorate.
After completing her residency at Rush University Medical Center in internal medicine and pediatrics, she participated in an allergy and immunology fellowship and earned a master’s degree in clinical research.
Taking Initiative for Latino Health
Mora is thankful for her strong Latino community.
“As soon as my parents went to Catholic Church and said, ‘Well, she’s going to study medicine,’ [the community] immediately gravitated [to support me]. They were the force beneath my wings, really,” Mora said.
When she made the transition to medical school, she felt lonelier, being further from her community.
Fewer than 7% of medical school students are Latino, data show.
“I remember, you know, sitting especially at University of Chicago, being one of very few Latinos in the classroom,” Mora said.
While a Latina studying medicine was rare, Mora found strengths in her differences.
“I spoke Spanish, so I was such an asset as soon as I begin my medical career,” Mora said. “Patients felt so much more comfortable. There was a decrease in anxiety as well. And so that’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.”
Seeing how valuable speaking Spanish with patients can be, Mora and her friends taught other medical students, too.
“I wrote a Spanish curriculum, and we instituted it during our second year of medical school. We would join during lunch,” Mora said. “We would go into classrooms, and we would all eat lunch. And each of us – of the Latino students – would cut into small groups and kind of teach basic medical Spanish.”
Mora frequently employed her bilingual skills when she began working for the largest private practice for allergy and immunology in Chicago.
But her path stalled five years later when she asked to become a partner.
“[The board of directors] said, ‘Oh, one day. You are great partnership material, but we want to wait another year.’ And then one of the other doctors in the board said, ‘Juanita, they’re just leading you on. You’re a Latina, and you’re a woman. They’re never going to give it to you,’” Mora said.
Mora again leaned on her family for support.
She talked with her siblings, who encouraged her to open her own practice.
Today, Mora is in her ninth year with her private practice – the Chicago Allergy Center. She manages the center while also delivering personalized, culturally relevant care to her patients.
Serving Latino Patients During the COVID-19 Pandemic
When COVID-19 arrived in March 2020, Mora saw news headlines about how the pandemic had a harsh impact on essential workers, especially Latinos and African Americans.
Dr. Mora faced a crossroads.
“I had a decision to make whether I was going to keep my practice open, or whether I was going to close the doors and become virtual like everyone else,” Mora said.
Growing up with essential workers like her father and grandparents, Mora knew it was important to keep her doors open. So that’s exactly what she did.
“What I saw was this fear, their community health centers had closed, and a lot of them didn’t know how to do a virtual visit, and then they didn’t know how to get treated. They were so afraid of going to the hospital, because they were afraid of dying and just saying goodbye to their families over FaceTime, because that’s what was happening then,” Mora explained.
Mora became an advocate for Latino healthcare workers.
When she appeared on Univision Chicago to talk about COVID-19 risk factors and asthma, she began to understand the tough situation workers found themselves in.
“The reporters are like ‘Juanita, look at the million messages we’re getting from workers who are not getting the PPE that they need,’” Mora said.
So, Mora wrote letters to different companies and employers to ensure workers were being treated fairly and getting the PPE they needed.
Mora and her team also administered vaccines once they were available. She was a regular on local newscasts to explain the vaccine and how it could help keep people safe.
“Health equity is important because it’s cultural competency and bridging health equity will equal better patient care, and better patient outcomes as well,” Mora explained.
Everyday Infection Control
COVID-19 also highlighted the importance of infection control in healthcare settings.
“I really would wake up at 4:00 [a.m.], make sure in my clinic never ran out of Clorox wipes, and Lysol sprays, and masks. We always had masks, because that was part of good infection control,” Mora said.
While current cases haven’t reached the same highs as the height of the pandemic, Mora continues to emphasize the importance of infection control action in her work every day.
“First thing we do is we deep clean everything, which is great,” Mora said, noting the importance of cleaning and disinfection. “We [disinfect] right after every single patient.”
Cleaning hands remains of utmost importance in every clinic, Mora said.
“Precautions are something that I definitely push with my patients and with [my center staff] as well. Frequent hand washing … helps to prevent the spread of illness,” she said.
When it comes to keeping up with the latest news and updates regarding infection control, Mora and her team turn to the CDC.
“The CDC, we always go to because they’re the most up to date. Also, the local department of public health is where I would point people, too, because they have the up-to-date resources,” Mora said.
The Importance of Latino Representation
Mora also frequently speaks up for Latino health as a national medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association. You may have seen her on including NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, The New York Times, CNN, USA Today, and NPR.
And she doesn’t stop there.
Having connections to the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) as a student, Mora joined the NHMA’s Leadership Fellowship Program.
The program helps develop leadership skills among NHMA physician members to boost their eligibility for decision-making and executive positions across private, state, and federal levels. Fellows participate in NHMA’s annual meeting and weekly training sessions on different issues facing Latinos, including infection control.
Part of the program also includes working on a policy project with a team of NHMA fellows.
“You get to go to the White House in Washington DC and to the many federal government offices like the CDC, the HHS, and you get to meet of the now a lot of the national leaders in kind of present a lot of the concerns of the Latino community and how to better serve them and give them a voice,” Mora explained.
Mora found the program rewarding in many ways.
“A lot of us were first generation Latino doctors from humble backgrounds. And I think our hearts were filled with pride. And just walking into the White House and all these federal offices – we feel heard,” Mora said.
Mora encourages Latino students to pursue their dreams and take advantage of resources and mentors that may be available for them.
“I think it’s what I would tell future Latino doctors is you’ve got to take as many seats at as many tables as possible to give your community a voice,” Mora said. “We embrace these younger generations and tell them they’re not alone. We are just like them, we preceded them, and if we could do it, they can do it, too.”
What Can You Do to Promote Infection Control in Your Healthcare Setting?
Like Mora, you can help keep yourself, your colleagues, and your patients safe from infectious disease threats by building your infection control knowledge!
To show your dedication, sign this pledge to complete an infection control training or activity through CDC’s Project Firstline!
You can also share infection control training opportunities with healthcare colleagues via LinkedIn with our Project Firstline social media toolkit.
You can access more information about infection prevention and control in healthcare by visiting resources from CDC Project Firstline.
Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio is working with the National Hispanic Medical Association to bring Project Firstline infection control educational content to healthcare workers, so they are equipped with the knowledge they need to protect themselves, their facilities, and their patients (Latinos and all communities) from infectious disease threats in healthcare settings.
Check out some of the articles from this partnership:
- What is Project Firstline?
- What is the Goal of Infection Prevention and Control in Healthcare Settings?
- What’s a Virus?
- What is Ventilation and Why Does It Matter?
- Contact Time: What is It and How Does it Impact Infection Control?
- The Surprising Difference Between Cleaning and Disinfection
- What’s a Respiratory Droplet and Why Does It Matter?
Check out some of the Latino healthcare workers who are heroes for infection control:
- Anna Valdez: Tackling Infection Control with Education from Classroom to Clinic
- Wanda Montalvo: Preventing Infections in Community Health Centers, Latino Communities
- Ricardo Correa: Endocrinologist and Infection Control Leader for the Latino Community
- Jorge Moreno: Infection Control Hero for Spanish-Speaking Latinos and All Patients
- Dr. Veronica Ramirez: Keeping Her Community Health with Infection Control
Learn More about Project Firstline!
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a collaboration between Salud America!, the National Hispanic Medical Association, and the CDC’s Project Firstline. To find resources training materials, and other tools to bolster knowledge and practice of infection control, visit Project Firstline and view Salud America!’s infection control content.
By The Numbers
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.