A Fatherís Legacy, A Daughterís Motivation

Bolivia to the Bronx: A Medical Student-Activist Makes Her Mark

As a girl growing up in Brooklyn, Hannah Moreira was enthralled by all things medical. Her father, Guido Moreira, had trained as a physician in his native Bolivia and worked as a vascular technician at Maimonides Hospital. “I was fascinated by his ultrasound machine, blood pressure cuff and stethoscope,” Ms. Moreira recalled recently. “And I was super-excited whenever he brought me to work or took the time to show me his children’s anatomy book.”

A Father’s Legacy

Einstein medical student Hannah Moreira
Einstein medical student Hannah Moreira
Ms. Moreira, now a third-year medical student at Einstein, describes her dad as “inspirational.” She said, “My dad grew up in a small town in Bolivia where he didn’t have access to many things. Education was very important to him.”

Before coming to America, her father practiced medicine for two years in the Amazon, caring for indigenous people. “He was a people person and a good communicator. Working in underserved communities was his dream,” Ms. Moreira recalled.

During Hannah’s senior year in high school, tragedy struck: her dad was diagnosed with cancer. He died the summer after her freshman year of college. “It was hard to return to school that fall,” she acknowledged. “But my pride in who my father was, and how he and my mother raised me, kept me moving forward.”

A Daughter’s Passion

Ms. Moreira has embraced her father’s calling. Her interest in what she calls “the social side of medicine” started at Haverford College, where she majored in political science. As an undergraduate, she attended conferences on health disparities and did a summer internship in Bolivia—in the very town where her grandfather lived and her father had gone to medical school.

Bilingual in English and Spanish, she has long had a strong desire to work with the Latino community in the Bronx. “Although I’d only been to the borough a few times before entering Einstein, I was eager to get to know the community and get involved.”

Diving In

A young Hannah with her father
A young Hannah with her father
Not wasting any time, during her first year, she served as president of Einstein’s Physicians for a National Health Program chapter and as community outreach coordinator for the Latino Medical Student Association chapter on campus. Through the two clubs, she became involved with Bronx Community Board 11 and Bronx Health REACH, a coalition to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities.

That same year, she joined a group of second-year students in advocating for an on-campus umbrella organization to encompass all the community-based activities in which Einstein students take part. The Community Based Service Learning Program and its Einstein Community Action Network (E-CAN) launched in July 2013, led by Dr. Maria Marzan, assistant professor of family and social medicine.

Together with Fatima Nagaya, Ms. Moreira’s community outreach coordinator counterpart for Einstein’ Student National Medical Association chapter, she started a pre-health program at Christopher Columbus High School. The two friends spearheaded a nutrition advocacy project that required the students to survey merchants at local bodegas and supermarkets about the dearth of healthy food options offered in their establishments—a possible factor in the Bronx’s obesity and diabetes epidemics.

She also oversaw the Einstein Enrichment Program’s (EEP) Teen Action Program and helped participants prepare for their year-end oral presentations, which she watched them deliver at the end of the semester, this past spring.

“One of my greatest joys has been mentoring high school students in the EEP and connecting them with my fellow medical students.”

As an outgrowth of her EEP work she started a junior chapter of the LSMA. She also interned with the New York chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) during the summer between her first and second years.

Demonstrating True Grit

“Hannah is a tremendous grassroots advocate,” said Dr. Marzan, who also serves as a mentor. “She possesses a ‘true grit’ understanding of community and issues of poverty and privilege. She attends community board meetings with the notion she can both teach what she knows and learn from others. And she understands that larger health disparity issues—such as lack of access to care and health literacy—can’t only be taken care of in a doctor’s office.”

“There are so many opportunities when you go into the community,” said Ms. Moreira. “I’ve been able to make meaningful connections, like bringing together folks from Bronx Health REACH, the Bronx Park East Community Association and PNHP, and speaking at a church about single-payer insurance.”

Although third-year rotations now take up most of her time, Ms. Moreira sits on Einstein’s Community Advisory Board and is one of two medical students on the board of PNHP-New York.

A Recipient of Special Honors

This past May, she received EEP’s Mentor of the Year Award, an honor usually reserved for faculty members.

In June, the Latinas Hat Society (LHS), a grassroots fundraising group dedicated to improving life for New York City’s Latino community, honored the Einstein student with its first-ever medical student scholarship. “We’re so proud to see our young people like Hannah excel in professional directions,” said LHS president Ibon Pedraza, a longtime Bronx resident. “We’re pleased to be able to help them achieve their dreams.”

Born to Make a Difference

Healthcare delivery in underserved communities is one of the competencies taught at Einstein, noted Nilda I. Soto, assistant dean for diversity enhancement. “Hannah’s commitment to community service is phenomenal. It wouldn’t be surprising to one day see her in a professional leadership position, in an organization sensitive to the needs of such a community.”

“Hannah is smart, passionate, humble—and fearless!” added Dr. Marzan. “The desire to make a difference is in her bones.

“She’ll make an excellent clinician because of her ability to listen and find out what makes each person tick—just like getting to know a community.”

“I’ve been lucky to make my passion my work,” noted Ms. Moreira. “In addition to giving me a great medical education, Einstein has allowed me to address healthcare inequities that impact children and families and whole groups of people—problems I’m deeply concerned about.”

Her father would be proud.

Posted on: Wednesday, November 19, 2014