Members of UC Santa Barbara’s Los Curanderos reflected on the organization’s event programming and revitalization this academic year, particularly noting their May conference that gathered local high school students to learn about navigating the healthcare world as Latine individuals.
Los Curanderos is a Latine pre-health organization that aims to diversify the healthcare field through social activism and community events.
The group organizes weekly local speakers who come to meetings to discuss topics like imposter syndrome, maintains a mentorship program between underclassmen and upperclassmen and organizes conferences to various locations in California.
This year’s conference on May 13 — titled “Healing Our Communities” (HOC) — bussed over 30 high school students from Hueneme High School, Pacifica High School and Channel Islands High School to tour the UCSB campus, participate in workshops and learn about the healthcare profession.
“We chose Hueneme, Pacifica, and Channel Islands, because we identified them as the lowest income and having the highest Latinx population, so even though the bus was more expensive we thought it would have a bigger impact,” Los Curanderos Co-Chair and recent UCSB graduate Charles Crane said in a statement to the Nexus.
The conference aimed to educate the high school attendees on the process of applying to colleges as well as generally spread knowledge about the medical field.
“I’m actually from Oxnard, so I went to these schools and had the knowledge of the funding and lack of resources [at these institutions],” said HOC Chair and fourth-year psychological and brain sciences major Martha Garcia. “This event was mainly to help fill that gap and allow these students an opportunity to be able to have more of an equal chance.”
The conference featured a reef and campus tour, workshops on admissions, financial aid and course requirements, UCSB student panelists and a keynote speaker.
“If [students] wanted to come because they wanted to come into the medical field, that was great because we had presentations on pre-health tracks and such … but it was just more so for the overall knowledge and opportunity to visit the campus and know what it’s like,” Garcia said.
Like other organizations at UCSB, Crane said Los Curanderos struggled at the onset of COVID-19, causing events like the annual HOC conference to take a back seat in 2019.
“COVID hit, and our work with the Mixteco community, it was hard to bring that back,” Crane said in an interview with the Nexus. “This year, we decided that it was time to bring a lot of things back.”
He applauded the organization’s efforts to secure over $5,000 in funding to bring the conference to fruition, speaking to the group’s greater effort to revitalize its mission for the community.
“Again it was just such a great day and so many students talked about benefiting from the program, in person, writing ‘thanks for helping me decide what I want to do with my future’ on the review forms, or posting something on instagram showing gratitude,” Crane said in the statement.
Garcia spoke about coming from an underserved community with little resources regarding college applications, and said she feels a personal purpose to hosting such conferences and pursuing Los Curanderos’ mission as an organization.
“I was at a school that did not have resources that exposed us to applying to college … It was something not really talked about, which needs to change in these communities because it’s already being underserved and under-resourced,” she said.
Garcia emphasized how critical it is to expose such high school students to college campuses like UCSB to showcase that the opportunity does and can exist for them.
“Having that exposure is really important because it starts instilling that idea and that thought of, ‘I could be here and this could be me,” she said. “That’s something really important to be able to even increase the number of Hispanics and Latinos in not only the medical field, but just in higher education in general.”
Los Curanderos co-Chair and fourth-year biological sciences major Vanessa Sedano Ojeda echoed Garcia’s sentiment, highlighting the importance of having representation for college students that come from similar backgrounds at these conferences.
“A big part of specifically the Healing Our Communities conference was seeing people that come from similar backgrounds, that are Latinx and come from Oxnard, come from a lower-income background,” she said. “It’s seeing representation at the college level … it’s seeing representation in the medical field.”
Cranes expanded on the general lack of representation in the medical field, saying that it can lead to various language barriers between patients and medical professionals.
“There’s such a lack of diversity in healthcare, a lack of people who speak Spanish, a lack of people who understand the culture,” he said. “Having this diversity is so essential because it creates better patient outcomes, better patient care and shows people that, at the end of the day, these barriers can be overcome.”
Cranes said the conference and Los Curanderos’ events all center on the organization’s main focus: to provide community support and serve as representation for future Latine medical professionals.
“There is a place for you in the medical field. You’re wanted, and you’re needed,” Cranes said. “You can do it no matter what, and we’ll be here as a resource for you.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 7 of the June 1, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.