Dia de Los Muertos Conference Showcases Careers in Health

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Adriana Martinez threaded her first simple interrupted suture with the dexterity of an old pro. But since this was the first time that she had ever held a needle driver, the UCSF post-baccalaureate could be forgiven for then dropping her needle and having to look across the lab table for instruction on what to do next with her pig’s foot.

“I didn’t know if it would be similar to sewing, but I’m realizing that it’s not,” Martinez said, laughing. “It’s totally different.”

Martinez and over 150 other undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students from across Northern California and beyond converged onto the UCSF campus November 2 for the 21st Annual Dia de los Muertos Pre-Health Conference.

Organized by the Chicanos/Latinos in Health Education (CHE) chapter at UC Berkeley, with significant support from the CHE chapter at UCSF, this year’s conference provided students the opportunity to learn more about health careers from the perspective of the University of California’s only graduate school in the health sciences.

“I think UCSF is unique, in that we can really provide a connection to a variety of health professions,” said Maria Quezada, a second-year Medical Sciences student who was helping to organize the conference. “I think that all the schools did a great job harnessing all the resources available at UCSF and presenting them to the UC Berkeley CHE organization.”

For the UCSF students, the responsibility of helping to organize the Dia de Los Muertos Conference catalyzed new working relationships with their peers in the other schools.

“The great thing about CHE is that it’s a great way to work with dental students and nursing students and not be in a classroom, but actually do work on a huge project,” said Quezada. “The faculty have also been huge supporters, because this is not only a way to bring all of the disciplines together, but it’s also a way to recruit under-represented students to UCSF.”

And recruit they did. Some of the biggest draws for the breakout groups were the different workshops in some of UCSF’s specialized facilities, allowing students to watch demonstrations of such medical procedures as focused assessment with sonography for trauma (FAST, a rapid ultrasound technique), to practice CPR on dummies and to work with dental drills. Other breakout sessions covered career development, with mock interviews and MCAT strategy sessions to help students achieve their professional goals.

Perhaps even more valuable was the opportunity for the attendees to network not only with students, but also past participants of Dia de Los Muertos conferences who have gone on to become health professionals.

“I’m most excited about just getting to know people who basically have made it to medical school,” said Alfonso Carrillo, a second-year student at UC Berkeley who was also a member of their CHE chapter. “I mean from this perspective, it’s pretty daunting. Just getting to know the faces of the people at this conference, you see yourselves in their shoes, and you think, maybe I can do it too.”

Reflecting after the conference, Quezada echoed this sentiment. “This conference really reminded the UCSF students how it felt to be pre-med and how much of an impact their guidance and words of encouragement can make on a young Latino’s dream.”

Although Martinez and her friends probably still need some more practice with their simple interrupted sutures, at the end of the day, the 155 or so attendees of the 21st annual Dia de Los Muertos conference are hopefully one step closer to their goal of becoming health professionals.

“I’ve never had anybody go even as far as college; I guess I’m breaking ground,” said Carrillo. “So for me, I feel that this conference and CHE in general are really helping me thread through this process.”