|Overcoming All Challenges, Latinas Changing the Health Care Industry
By Karina Flores-Hurley
(L-R) Yudith Garcia, Staff Chemist, MRL, Exploratory Chemistry, Maureen Sanchez, Plant Manager, MMD, North America Operations & Consumer Care and Patricia Reyes, Change Lead & Hispanic/Latino BIR Chief of Staff, MMD, Strategy Execution. Photo provided by Merck.
As the daughter of a medical doctor in my native Peru, I grew up admiring the men in white coats that would rush around the hospital where my father worked in their impeccable white coats. Back then, only one woman, petite and shy, would stand out from the group. I remember my dad always seeking her advice —women, he said, were more talented, focused, and dedicated than men.
Whether that is true or not, the women that you’ll meet here do share those qualities. Times have changed and, especially in the United States, women are better represented in the health field than ever before. We not only see more of them, but we see them reach higher.
However, this phenomenon has not been replicated in the Latino population. According to a 2011 report by the U.S Bureau of Statistics, only about 14.6 percent of Hispanics currently works in the Health Care industry. Out of these, 5.3 percent are registered nurses; 6.4 percent are physicians and surgeons; 20 percent work as personal and home care aides; and the majority of them are cleaning workers (29 percent) and housekeepers (43 percent).
Considering that Latinos are expected to represent 60 percent of the total population by 2050, the absence of Latinos in key medical positions is critical. The reality is that there are not enough physicians, researchers, pharmaceutical professionals, scientists, nurses and other health professionals capable of serving the needs of the community and tending to the challenges that affect specifically Latinos.
In a 2011 report titled “Building a New Economy” The National Council of La Raza, the largest advocacy group for Latinos in the country, stated that “it is critical that all Americans, including Latinos, are prepared to meet the demands of this evolving sector”, in regards to health care. NCLR recommends investing in programs that prepare low-skilled workers for college-level learning; which at the same time would help bring down the barriers that prevent Latinos from accessing the good jobs in the health care industry.
The women you’ll meet here have brought down those barriers, overcoming not only professional challenges but also personal ones. They’ve come from different countries and have pursued different careers in the Health and Science fields. But they also have something in common: they are making a difference. And if they can do it, more Latinas can do it, too.
Chemistry Team Member-Exploratory Chemistry
Born in Cordoba, Argentina, Yudith Garcia always knew she wanted to be a scientist. So, upon receiving her B.A. in Industrial Chemical Engineering from Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, she came to the United States at the age of 25 seeking opportunities to further her education.
“You really don’t plan these things,” says Garcia, who came to visit some friends, and ended up applying for a scholarship. She got it, and obtained a B.S. in Chemistry from Brigham Young University, before moving onto a master’s degree in Organic Synthesis from the University of Utah.
“It was really difficult at the beginning,” recalls Garcia, who admitted feeling lonely and afraid her English skills were less than perfect. “I called my home once in tears and my sister told me: ‘Remember? This is what you always wanted!’”
Currently a team member of Exploratory Chemistry at Merck Research Laboratories in Boston, Massachusetts, Garcia has been involved in the design and optimization of many drugs produced by the company and has been part of chemistry projects to develop therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, oncology and respiratory and inflammatory diseases. Some of her collaborative work has been patented.
As part of her lab work, Garcia focuses in the discovery of novel compounds, currently working on a molecule that has the potential to become a drug. All in all her focus is to support the discovery of novel compounds utilizing her experience and expertise in Medicinal Chemistry to support Merck’s mission.
Sometimes, she says, her family has trouble understanding exactly what she does on those long hours in the lab. But when she mentions diseases such as ‘Alzheimer’ and ‘Cancer’, it helps them understand the significance and impact that her job has to society.
Besides being passionate about her job, which she refers to as “the creative side of chemistry,” Garcia also participates in the Merck Hispanos Organization (MHO) and the Merck Women’s Network, among other groups.
“Groups such as the Merck Hispanos Organization and Merck Women Network opened my mind,” says Garcia. “Meeting other people and knowing that we can support each other made a big difference for me.”
Support is the key for her success, and in her case family and academic resources played a big role. “If it wasn’t for my scholarship, I wouldn’t be here,” says Garcia. “Don’t let money stop you from where you want to be.”
Her advice to the future generations of scientists: “Keep trying, because when you’re failing, you’re learning.”
Maureen J. Sanchez
Plant Manager, Kenilworth NJ
Maureen J. Sanchez does not hesitate when asked for advice on how to balance work and home responsibilities —the latter, which includes raising two teenagers, can’t be easy. What is impressive, though, is that she manages to do that while supervising the work of 500 people as the Plant manager of Merck Pharmaceuticals in Kenilworth, New Jersey.
“[My job] is very fulfilling,” says Sanchez whom has a bachelor degree in Industrial Engineer and a master’s of Science in Manufacturing Engineering. “There are so many people that you’re surrounded by so many different backgrounds.”
A native of Rincon, Puerto Rico, Sanchez also had to go through the learning processes and challenges that come as a result to relocating to the United States.
“The first challenge for me was to work in a New Jersey facility with a Spanish background,” says Sanchez. However, she says her cultural background has played a role in developing managing skills. “I’m very people oriented. We have the charisma to get to people.”
Sanchez opted for a career in industrial engineering because she liked science, but was also looking for a problem-solving field. Industrial Engineering had the best of worlds. Among her roles Sanchez has been Sr. director - Strategy Execution and Delivery Outcomes – MMD Strategy office; SAP Readiness leader - MMD US Implementation; MMD - Intent architect - MMD Strategy Office - special assignment – US; director of Contract Operations - PR Operations, MMD, director of Pharmaceutical Planning and Logistics - PR Operations, MMD and today as Plant Manager.
“There were a lot of sacrifices,” recalls Sanchez. “I had a lot of mentors and I worked really hard.” Sanchez also attributes her professional success to the passion that she puts in all her endeavors, alongside the help of her mentors. Because she understands the importance of mentorship, she has become one herself.
“If I don’t enjoy what I’m doing, then I need to do something else,” says Sanchez. “It is important to be passionate on what you do and strive for continuous learning and development.”
Sanchez encourages all Latinas who have the opportunity to study and be self-sufficient to do so, and to learn from their mistakes along the way.
Patricia M. Reyes
Change Lead in the Merck Manufacturing
Division Strategy Execution Office
A Change Lead in the Merck Manufacturing Division Strategy Execution Office where she is a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma and a Certified Change Agent, Patricia M. Reyes supports Corporate Strategic Initiatives in her current role as a Change expert in Change Execution Methodology.
Reyes is also the Chief of Staff of the Merck Hispanic/Latino Business Insight Roundtable where she dedicates half of her time at the company working towards ensuring a diverse workforce. She has been involved in this mission ever since she joined Merck in 2007, and became the Co-President of the Merck Hispanos Organization (MHO), which currently has 750 members nationwide. These initiatives, funded by the organization, not only provide leadership training and mentorship opportunities for its members, but they also do philanthropic work in partnership with other Hispanic advocacy groups in the country.
Reyes was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and moved to New York with her family at the age of four. Her father died young, and hence her mother played an instrumental role in her education, always emphasizing the importance of bilingualism.
“My mother and father made sure that my sister and I were 100 percent bilingual”. One of her mother’s strategies, Reyes says, was to sit her down and read with her New York’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, El Diario La Prensa.
Reyes says the discovery of her career was an evolving journey. “I always loved science, although I never really got into the sciences,” recalls Reyes. “I started my career in pre-med, but changed to business management.”
Reyes went on to obtain an MBA from Wagner College of Staten Island, where she is also an Adjunct Professor on diversity in the workforce and other courses; and is currently a doctoral candidate in Leadership and Organizational Change at Walden University.
She has several awards to her credit; such as Masters Recognition at MCI. Sales Achievers Club, 2009 Merck Sigma Award for the Best Methodology and 2011-2012 NAPW, Professional Women of the Year.
Reyes says her passion drives her to where she wants to go, but she has had the help of others along the way. “The role model came into play there and my role models were definitively my parents,” says Reyes.
Like her mother, she serves as a role model for her three professional daughters (one of them with a career in medicine). “One thing I would tell Latinas is to strive for the stars,” says Reyes. “With my mother, if there was a problem, it became an opportunity.”
Diversity at Merck
On Friday June 1, 2012, over 50 Merck Professional (mostly Hispanic/Latinos) joined together for a formal two half day session Mentoring program at the Whitehouse Station in New Jersey. The program was sponsored by the Hispanic/Latino Business Insight Roundtable (BIR) /Merck Hispanos Organization (MHO). MHO is an ERG/Grassroots organization/ Approximately 750 Members Nationwide. The first program of its kind at Merck is expected to run approximately 9-12 months and Merck foresees the MHO expanding globally for 2012.
The morning session gave mentors the opportunity to understand the Latin/Hispanic Leadership styles and what it means to be a mentor; the afternoon session did the same as well as to what it takes to be a good successful mentee. Participants came from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida & North Carolina.
To learn more about careers at Merck please visit www.Merck.com
Merck is an innovative, global healthcare leader that is committed to improving health and well being around the world. Merck defines diversity as a vast blend of organizational and human characteristics, needs, experiences and traditions. Merck defines inclusion as providing a sense of belonging to all members of the organization so that they feel welcomed, respected and valued, and can contribute at the highest level of their individual and/or team capabilities.
Non-Merck Latinas dedicated to science and innovation are also making a difference.
Dr. Catalina Esperanza Garcia, M.D.
Principal of the Dallas Anesthesiology Group, P.A.
Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, Catalina Esperanza Garcia is currently the president of the Dallas Anesthesiology Group in Texas. Garcia was the first Mexican American to earn an M.D. degree at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in the school’s history.
“I was the second Latina to finish medical school and Texas was not welcoming Latinos at that time,” recalls Garcia. “But I did plan ahead. I think all people should do that and not be naïve.”
Garcia was five years old when she first went to the doctor, who happened to be a woman. The aura surrounding this woman, along with the respect that her own mother showed for her, mesmerized her and inspired what would become a successful career in medicine and a desire to help others.
In addition to her medical practice, Garcia is an active promoter of Latinas’ personal and professional development in her community through non-profit organizations that she helped found and continues to be part of, such as the Mexican American Business and Professional Women of Dallas.
For Garcia, the lack of cultural-competency in the health care industry is also a concern, although Dallas is one of the few cities that require knowledge of basic Spanish when pursuing a career in medicine.
Throughout her career, Garcia has had to fight stereotypes. She pursued medicine before the implementation of Affirmative Action, for which it was often assumed that Hispanic medical students were simply filling a quota.
“We had to jump the same hoops that everyone else had to jump in order to go to medical school,” says Garcia. “Nobody gave us a break.”
Garcia’s main advice to young Latinas? “Look past obstacles and keep your eyes on the prize.”
Vice President of Women and Children Health and Policy,
Novello made us proud when in 1990 she became the first woman and the first Hispanic to be appointed Surgeon General of the United States. A native of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Novello became interested in medicine at an early age, and by when she reached her teen years she had already decided to become a doctor in order to help sick children.
With an extensive academic and professional background that includes the University of Puerto Rico, the University of Michigan and Georgetown University, in addition to more than 20 years in the public service arena as part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Novello is currently the vice president of Women and Children Health and Policy at the Florida Hospital in Orlando.
Novello can summarize the path towards such an impressive career with rather simple advice. “It is not easy, but nothing is impossible,” says Novello. “Determine what is it that you want, build your strategy and work at it.”
On the other hand, she warns future generation of Latinas about becoming doctors just for the prestige attached to it. “Medicine is a career for a lifetime”, she said, while, at the same time, understanding the urgency of having more Hispanic physicians. “If you don’t have cultural competence, you shouldn’t be treating minorities.”
Novello says that to become a doctor should not be the end career, and that Latinas should keep their options open and also consider other positions in which they can help the community, such as nurses and lab researchers.
Based on her own formula for success, Novello says that education is key, followed by support and perseverance. “You have to have someone who is your mentor and a really good friend who can laugh at it when you do things wrong,” says Novello. It is that simple.
(Sitting L-R) Maria Teresa Cruañes, Research Fellow, MRL division, Scientific & Operational Strategy (Pharmaceutical Sciences and Clinical Supply); Mabel Jordan, director, MMD, Regional Business Operations - Latin America; Ermelinda FLores, Senior Customer Representative, GHH, National Business Group; Sara Ortiz, Executive Professional Development Trainer, GHH, Global Commercial Learning; Patricia Reyes, Change Lead & Hispanic/Latino BIR Chief of Staff, MMD, Strategy Execution; Sandra Velez, Leader - Global Marketing Communications; GHH, Global Commercial Support; Yudith Garcia, Staff Chemist, MRL, Exploratory Chemistry; Mildred Medina, Global Sustainment Lead,GS, Shared Business Services; Adriana De La Fuente, Latin America Regional Manager, GHH, GEMS (Global Expert Management Services); (Standing L-R)) Maureen Sanchez, Plant Manager, MMD, North America Operations & Consumer Care; Carmina Urias, Customer Service Bilingual Analyst, GS, Shared Business Services / Procure to Pay; Natasha Cano-Marin, Customer Service Bilingual Analyst, GS, Shared Business Services / Procure to Pay; Nidia Malone, Product Source Manager, MMD, Product Source; Thais Serrano, Sr. Analyst, MMD, Global Logisitics; Alexandra Ibanez, Team Lead - AC-FO SALAR, MMD, Global Logistics; Aida Perez-Marti, Sourcing Manager, MMD, Global Procurement; Catherine Gil, Senior Trade Compliance Analyst, MMD, Global Logistics; Rebeca Cuadros, Finance Manager, MMD, Finance; Vanessa Vega, Service Manager, GS, Shared; Business Services; Gladys Molina, Franchise Leader, GMC&CS, GHH, GMC & CS; Patricia Coronado, Senior Engineer, MMD, Technical Operations - Validation. GS-Global Services, MMD-Merck Manufacturing Division, MRL-Merck Reseach Labs, GHH-Global Human Health.