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DU Grad Student Makes a Statement at DU and in Health Care

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Alyssa Hurst

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America Martinez

Growing up, America Elias Martinez saw both sides of health care. She saw the care doctors and nurses offered her cousin, who has cerebral palsy. But she also saw serious disparities in access and quality.

“That drove me to want to make a difference as a physician,” Martinez says.

That’s been her enduring goal since. It brought her to Colorado State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, and to the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes in Aurora, where she served as researcher and advocate.

Most recently, it brought Martinez to the University of Denver’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, from which she plans to graduate in June with a professional science master’s (PSM) degree in biomedical sciences.

DU’s one-year PSM program prepares students for challenging careers through rigorous academics blended with practical skills. In addition to tackling a customizable schedule of courses, each student takes on a nine- to 12-month internship/capstone project in their short time at DU.

For her project, which examines opioid treatment facilities and how they interact with health disparities, Martinez, working under two Denver-area physicians, drew once again on her passion for understanding and addressing health inequities.

“We are looking at a lot of data about where these treatment facilities are located and whether there’s a correlation with racial, ethnic, social or economic status,” she explains. “Is there a discrepancy between who gets the treatment facilities? What does transportation [to the facilities] look like? And what are the outcomes of getting better in this opioid crisis?”

Martinez is dedicated to making a difference in health care, but also at DU. Her very presence at DU, she says, makes a powerful statement about representation.

 “A master’s wasn’t in the plan. This is very new to me, and I’m a first-generation student, so navigating the resources was very difficult. I wanted to show up and be like, ‘You know people like us can do this and can make it,’” she says. “Creating that diversity and inclusion builds avenues for other people to want to be in these spaces.”

This community-building work has defined Martinez’s year at the University, and in that short time, she has certainly made a mark. Through a work-study position, Martinez is closely involved with DU’s COVID-19 spit lab, teaching and overseeing its student interns. She’s also contributing to an upcoming health equity website and is leading community engagement for a project aimed at undoing redlining and reimagining sustainable mobility.

On top of all that, and in addition to a part-time job as a caregiver, Martinez is creating better support systems for health-focused Latino undergraduate students through a new club she’s dubbed the Latino Medical School Association. Still in its early stages, the club aims to help students navigate medical school logistics and resources.

“One of the goals for me coming into DU was making a statement and being able to not just go to school, get the grades and get out,” she says. “I wanted to really make an impact.”

Martinez’s time at DU may be drawing to a close, but she plans to maintain that commitment through medical school, where she hopes to focus on emergency medicine. For many patients, especially those from marginalized communities, a trip to the emergency room is a crucial first encounter with health care. That initial interaction can be a stepping-stone to a better relationship with health and wellness, she says.

Just as she dove headfirst into the DU community, determined to leave it better than she found it, Martinez plans to get right to work on her next chapter.

“We talk about the discrepancies, but there isn’t a lot of advocacy work that is being done,” she says. “It’s a lot of talk, and we need action.”

 

Plans for commencement for the Class of 2021 are underway. We are extremely proud of our 2021 graduates and are looking forward to providing commencement information as soon as possible.