5 Hispanic pioneers in the healthcare industry

By Meredith Wishart

5 Hispanic pioneers in the healthcare industry 

National Hispanic Heritage Month is an annual celebration from September 15th to October 15th. The  month is dedicated to celebrating and honoring the influences and contributions of Hispanic Americans. Recognizing the impact this ethnicity has made in art, culture, sciences, and more is hard to limit to one month. 

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, KNB is paying homage to 5 Hispanic Americans who have made renowned contributions to the healthcare industry. Join us in celebrating! 


  • 1. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, PhD, RN - Revolutionized the face of nursing 

Coming from a family of health professionals in Panama, Murillo-Rohde was sparked with an interest in healthcare from the start of her life. Enrolling in the nursing program at the Medical and Surgical Hospital School of Nursing in San Antonio Texas, she found herself as one of the few Hispanic nurses. Following graduation in 1948, Murillo-Rohde continued on to NYU to receive her PhD. Recognized by her success and intelligence, she would become the first Hispanic dean of nursing at NYU. However, one of her greatest accomplishments was the formation of the NAHN, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. This organization is dedicated to attracting Hispanic people to nursing and providing them with support. The creation of NAHN and her trailblazing efforts for Hispanics in healthcare signifies Ildaura Murillo-Rohde as a pioneer in the healthcare industry. 


  • 2. José Celso Barbosa, MD - First Puerto Rican MD in the United States 

In hopes of furthering his education, Barbosa left his home of Puerto Rico for New York City. Following rejection from Columbia University based upon his ethnicity, he was determined to not let this deter him from his dreams of becoming a physician. After being admitted to The University of Michigan, Barbosa would graduate in 1880, becoming the first Puerto Rican to obtain a medical degree in the United States. He continued on by caring for those in the Spanish-American War by working closely with the Red Cross. Still determined to make a difference, Barbosa would become an advocate for employer-based health insurance, a radical idea at the time. José Celso Barbosa’s determination deserves immense admiration, and for that we celebrate his contribution to the healthcare industry. 

  • 3. Severo Ochoa, MD - First Hispanic American to win Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Ochoa, inspired by fellow Spaniard neurologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, was determined to enter the field of biology. Following his graduation from the University of Madrid medical school in 1942, Ochoa accepted a position at NYU College of Medicine. Severo is credited with discovering an enzyme that had the ability to synthesize ribonucleic acid, allowing for the future breakdown of the human genetic code. Recognized by this work, Ochoa received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1959, becoming the first Hispanic American to receive such honor. 

  1.    4.Helen Rodríguez-Trías, MD - First Latina to lead the American Public Health Association 

Helen Rodríguez-Trías established herself as a pioneer in the public health sphere. Following her graduation from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine in 1970, Rodríguez-Trías was hired as the head of pediatrics. In this role, she advocated for quality care and cultural awareness. One of Rodríguez-Traís’ major concerns was the 1970’s government initiative that coerced women, especially minorities and the disabled, to become sterilized. In response to this, she created the Campaign to End Sterilization Abuse, leading to the need for consent in these practices. In conjunction with helping women suffering from HIV and AIDS, she became the first Latina presiding over the American Public Health Association. Rodríguez-Trías was a pioneer for women's health and health equity, a mind ahead of her time. 

  1. 5. Jane Delgado, PhD - First woman president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health

From receiving an M.A. in psychology from NYU in 1975,  then continuing on to obtain a PhD from SUNY Stony Brook in 1981, and finally a M.S in Urban Policy and Sciences, Jane Delgado has her fair share of accomplishments. Delgado used these qualifications to fight against ethnic and racial inequalities in the healthcare realm. She promoted minority health to the Department of Health and Human Services and would be promoted to become the first ever woman president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, NAHH. Delgado has published numerous books, such as the profound Salud: The Latina Guide to Total Health. Jane Delgado is continuing to make a difference in healthcare today by ensuring equity in this industry.

While these are just five Hispanic individuals who have greatly impacted the healthcare industry, there are countless following behind them. We recognize and applaud these contributions and will continue to celebrate them long after Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end. 

by Meredith Wishart

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