Dr. Patricia Téllez-Gíron has been an activist around health education in the greater Madison community for decades. Whether it be organizing the Latino Health Fair, Latino Chronic Disease Summit, Latino Mental Health Summit, the Latino Health Teen Bash, or her Spanish-language health program she hosts on La Movida Radio, Téllez-Gíron has played a huge part in helping to keep the Madison Latino community informed about their health. One of the things she has been doing more and more of over that last four or five years is mentoring students of color – particularly Latinos – who have dreams of pursuing a career in healthcare.

Sometimes, it’s three students. Sometimes it’s five. Sometimes, it’s just one. But they all add up over time for Téllez-Gíron, an associate professor of family medicine for the UW Department of Family Medicine and Community Health and the co-chair of the Latino Health Council, who says that she really enjoys mentoring students.

“Now, over the years, I have probably mentored 80 students,” Tellez-Gíron tells Madison365. “Currently, I’m mentoring 15 students. I started with pre-Med students, and then I was mentoring some of my medical students and now one of my med students is coming as a resident in my program. We’ve also started mentoring high school students and, eventually, we also want to work with the school district with the Pathway system of health care to see if we can work with middle school students.

“We would love to have a pipeline program,” she adds. “Mentoring our young people is so important to our future.”

On May 10 at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, the UW Office of Multicultural Affairs and Medical Students for Minority Concerns, an organization aims to introduce students to the health challenges of minority populations and their access to health care in Madison, gave a special award to Tellez-Gíron for her tireless advocacy and mentorship of students.

“I’m very honored to get this award,” Téllez-Gíron says. “I don’t want to brag – but I’ve gotten many, many awards. But this one was particularly important to me … not just for me, but for recognizing the importance of mentoring minority students. It was really special to me that they gave me this and that they realized that we really need to increase the number of minority students that go through medical school.”

Although Tellez-Gíron does not want to brag, her awards for her good work in the community are indeed numerous including: the AIDS Network Executive Director’s Award for Outstanding Community HIV/AIDS Service and the Faculty Excellence Award for Community Service. In 2005, she received the “UMOS Wisconsin Family of the Year Award” and, in 2007, the UW Family Medicine Department Mark Hansen, MD Lectureship Award. In 2008 she was a UW-Madison Outstanding Women of Color award and in 2011 she was honored with the prestigious City-County Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award for Dane County.

Dr. Patricia Tellez-Gíron

This past Jan. 27, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (UWSMPH) Faculty and Staff Equity and Diversity Committee honored Tellez-Giron (right) with the annual Faculty and Staff Equity and Diversity Award for her promotion of equity and improvement of diversity and climate in the Madison community.

Her most recent award from UW-Madison’s Office of Multicultural Affairs was inscribed with the words: “In grateful acknowledgment of your outstanding support, active participation, and selfless service to the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Medical Students for Minority Concerns, and Latino Medical Students Association.

“What I have observed is that many of the minority students were not getting the mentoring that they needed to really make it to medical school,” says Téllez-Gíron, whose clinical practice is at the Wingra Clinic where more than 90 percent of her patients speak only Spanish. “When students come to me, I recognize that there are some particularities of minority students that were not being addressed.

“For example, for my Latino students … even though they were born here, they were raised by Latino parents and taught to be humble and to not talk about your accomplishments, things that happen in the family stay in the family, etc,” she continues. “So when they applied to medical school, that’s how they would do it and that’s not how it works in this country.”

Dr. Tellez-Gíron works with a variety of students to give them what they need to be successful.

“Several of my students have parents who are undocumented and they have come to this country to work really hard to send their children to school and to be the first ones going to college, but the parents don’t know anything about how to help them apply,” she says. “I help them with applications, personal statements, personal interviews and resumes for medical school. I really do mentoring where I try to help them every way possible.

“I mentor the young people from the beginning to the end. If the student needs shadowing, I give them opportunities at the clinic,” she adds. “If they need community work, they work with me on community health projects for the Latino Health Council.”

Through LHC, she also teaches the students leadership skills.

Dr. Patricia Téllez-Gíron with UW-Madison Professional Association of Latinos for Medical School Access (PALMA) students after receiving her award May 10.

Téllez-Gíron says she really enjoys working with UW-Madison Professional Association of Latinos for Medical School Access (PALMA), a student organization established in 2008. PALMA provides resources for, but not exclusively to, Latino/a students at the UW who are interested in medicine and/or a medical career. Its members are committed to expanding the participation of groups who have traditionally been underrepresented in the health profession fields.

“I’ve been working with PALMA since they started. I’ve been their advisor for a while,” she says. “That’s how we try to connect people when they start college so I can really give them the experience they need over four years to apply [for med school.]

“For years, PALMA has been Latino students, but we’ve also had Hmong and African-American students that we are helping,” she adds.

All of the mentoring that Tellez-Gíron does, she does on her own time. It’s not something that is part of her job description.

“It can be very time consuming because every time I meet with one student, it can be at least two hours of my time,” she says, “and I have many students and I meet them several times. Plus, I have the time for shadowing.”

But Tellez-Giron says that she does it because she knows how important the pipeline is for the recruitment of minorities to the medical field. Raised in Mexico City, Tellez-Giron earned her medical degree, with honors, at the National University of Mexico (UNAM). She moved to the United States in 1993 to be with her family and to continue her education, and ever since has been working very actively with the Madison-area Latinx community.

“I really do the mentoring straight from my heart,” she says. “It’s something I feel I need to do to pay it forward the help that I was given when I started and because I see that these kids really, really need it.”

Written by David Dahmer

David Dahmer

A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.