Study: Exito! Builds a Pipeline of Latino Doctors, Cancer Researchers


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Latinos are less likely than other population groups to seek doctoral degrees and study cancer.

Fortunately, a new study from UT Health San Antonio showcases the success of the Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program in motivating Latinos to earn doctoral degrees and pursue careers in cancer research.

The study, published in the Journal of Cancer Education, examined the methods and results of the Éxito! program.

Éxito!, led by Salud America! director Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez of UT Health San Antonio and funded by the National Cancer Institute, recruits 25 Latino students and health professionals annually for a culturally tailored curriculum to promote pursuit of a doctoral degree and cancer research career. The program also offers internships and ongoing support.

Of 101 program participants from 2011-2015, 43% applied to a doctoral program and 29.7% were currently enrolled.

Éxito! has proven a strong model pipeline program that equips Latinos for applying to and thriving in doctoral programs, with added potential to boost the pool of cancer health disparity researchers,” Ramirez said.

The Éxito! Effect

Éxito! has three main components: recruitment of master’s level students or health professionals, an ethnically tailored intensive 5-day summer institute, and competitive 6-month paid internships.

Exito LogoThroughout the summer institute, real Latino researchers share their personal journeys to and through the doctorate and described their current career roles and work environments.

Participants learn nuances of Latino cancer research, grant writing, and funding mechanisms. They also join group discussions to foster networking, sharing of personal experiences, and learning what it means to be a minority in an academic environment to better prepare for the cultural challenges that come with doctoral work.

All these highly participatory interactive sessions enabled understanding of cultural experiences among participants and encouraged interpersonal bonding,” Ramirez said.

The new study found significant increases in summer institute participants’ confidence to apply to a doctoral program and academic self-efficacy, according to before-and-after-institute surveys.

It also found significant increased research skills among interns.

Éxito! is able to address issues specific to Latino students and recognize the value of their culture, helping them to see their potential roles in eliminating disparities, and giving them the support and confidence they need to take the next academic step,” according to the study.

“Exposure to successful Latino role models and like-minded peers were powerful forms of verbal persuasion.”

The Éxito! Doctors and Researchers

So far, seven Éxito! participants have gone on to earn their doctoral degrees:

Martha Ivette Garcia, Éxito! Alumni 2011. Dr. Garcia recently became the first Éxito! alumni to graduate with a doctoral degree after earning her PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Texas Medical Branch, School of Biomedical Sciences.

Dr. Melawhy Garcia, Exito! Program Graduate
Dr. Melawhy Garcia, 2012 Exito! Program Graduate (center) with program leaders Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez at UT Health San Antonio and recently retired Kip Gallion.

Melawhy Garcia, Éxito! Alumni 2012. Dr. Garcia earned her PhD in Health Behavioral Research from the University of California San Diego/San Diego State University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Health Science in the Department of Health Science at California State University Long Beach.

Rebecca Adeigbe, Éxito! Alumni 2011. Dr. Adeigbe earned her PhD in Applied Demography from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She currently works as a Biostatistician with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research.

Marivelisse Soto-Salgado, Éxito! Alumni 2011. Marievelisse Soto-Salgado earned her doctorate from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Medical Sciences Campus, Graduate School of Public Health. She is currently a research coordinator and epidemiologist at the UPR)/MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) Partnership for Excellence in Cancer Research Program.

Sanae El Ibrahimi, Éxito! Alumni 2013. Dr. El Ibrahimi earned her PhD in Epidemiology & Biostatistics from the University of Nevada. She is currently a Health Care Analyst at HealthInsight NV.

Mary V. Diaz Santana, Éxito! Alumni 2011. Dr. Diaz Santana earned her PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is currently doing postdoctoral work at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Roger Figueroa, Éxito! Alumni 2012. Dr. Figueroa earned his PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is currently doing a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Traineeship at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Éxito! was one of the best things that has happened to me, as a person and as a professional,” Figueroa said.

Éxito! and the Future

Earlier this year, Éxito! was named an innovative “Program to Watch” in a report by Excelencia in Education, a group that promotes Latinos in higher education. The group also includes Éxito! as part of its “Growing What Works Database” and named the program as a finalist for “Examples of Excelencia” in July 2018.

The new study suggests other Hispanic-serving institutions replicate the Éxito! program.

“We’re proud that, in Éxito!, participants found a sense of belonging and viewed themselves as a larger force rather than simply a minority, and we hope that sense of belonging can expand across the nation,” Ramirez said.

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