AMWA was lucky enough to host guest speaker Dr. Norma Villanueva, Network Chief of Child and Adolescent Health at Lutheran Family Health Centers, and Regional Director and Associate Professor at AT Still School of Osteopathic Medicine at our meeting on January 31, 2011. She spoke about how she overcame difficulties to get to where she is today.
Dr. Villanueva is a first generation Puerto Rican, and grew up in the South Bronx as the sixth in a family of seven children. She describes her upbringing as “relatively poor,” as they lived in a two bedroom apartment. In high school, she told her biology teacher she wanted to become a doctor, to which the teacher told her she would never get into medical school. Dr. Villanueva believed her, and she took a job as a clerk.
Soon after, she got married, had three kids, and had completed a small amount of undergraduate education. When she got divorced, she knew she needed a way to make money to support her young children. Her family supported her while she went back to school, a community college in the South Bronx, and got her Associates Degree. Dr. Villanueva then transferred to Lehman College in the Bronx as a pre-medical student. She had to go to school at night because her youngest children were still toddlers.
After graduating with a Bachelors Degree in Puerto Rican Studies, she got accepted to Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and felt lucky to be able to stay in the Bronx. She did her residency in pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center, and was enrolled in the Social Medicine
program, which better prepares you for outpatient work. It was also easier to have a family in this program. It works by matching you up with another intern after nine months, so you have less on-calls, and you get six clinic sessions per week instead of one.
Dr. Villanueva’s first position was as a primary care physician in New York City Hospital. She then took a job in the Bronx, first in Adolescent Health, then as Pediatric Supervisor, Medical Director, and Assistant Medical Director and President of the Board. Always having been interested in public health, she got her MPH from Harvard. She then began working where she does today, at Lutheran Family Health Centers in Brooklyn.
Dr. Villanueva wanted to make her community better, having experience being a patient and the loved one of a patient who got substandard care in NYC. She realized that we need more primary care physicians, which many doctors do not want to go in to because it doesn’t pay as much, and they anticipate trouble paying back their student loans. She wanted to develop a medical school to guide students into this field and also to practice in this area. She partnered with the AT Still University (in Missouri) and opened a school in Mesa, Arizona. The school is nontraditional in that years two through four are clinical years, with second year students taking classes in the hospital. Cases are taught through inductive reasoning one session each week with a family care provider. There is also one session each week with a specialist. Of the first graduating class, the class of 2011, 58% of the class went into primary care. However, Dr. Villanueva is striving for higher numbers.