On a mission – at work and in the National Guard
Lupita Guerra distinctly remembers waking up one morning as an 8-year-old and thinking, “I want to be a cardiothoracic surgeon.” She’s not sure what sparked that lofty goal in her second-grade self, but it started a lifetime pursuit of learning and serving others.
Her parents were migrant workers that came to the Milwaukee area when she was 5 years old. They lived below the federal poverty level and rarely went to the doctor. But as her mother aged, she was diagnosed with diabetes and Guerra went to her appointments as her interpreter. Guerra remembers that at times, they were treated poorly by clinical staff because of their low medical literacy and primary Spanish language, which often was a barrier in fully understanding the provider’s explanation of the health condition, prognosis or treatment plan. This only further served to fuel Guerra’s desire to learn.
Guerra is now a physician assistant in cardiology at Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wis.
Heart disease is a top chronic condition, and Guerra’s work team is helping to address health inequity and improve access to care for the Hispanic community. They engage in outreach and have a full-time cardiologist and other staff who are bilingual. They also partner with Hispanic-based organizations and events to provide screenings and education.
“It always amazes me how speaking a patient’s native language – either directly or through an interpreter – can change the dynamic of the visit to one where the patient is more relaxed and truly grateful that someone is communicating with them in their own language,” Guerra explains. “I see my patients become more comfortable and their tension ease when I can speak to them in Spanish.”
Guerra is also a captain in the Wisconsin National Guard as a physician assistant. She joined to help others. She recently completed four weeks of specialized training that strengthens her as a leader both at home in her community and abroad serving soldiers and citizens around the globe. She plans to volunteer for her unit’s next humanitarian mission.
To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, Guerra says, “I plan on honoring my mother’s memory and retelling the stories – accomplishments, disappointments and milestones of our people – to my son.”
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About the Author
Amy Werdin, health enews contributor, is a provider public affairs coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. She has been with the organization for 19 years, starting out in marketing for Advanced Healthcare, then Aurora Health Care and now in her current role. She enjoys reading, movies and watching her two daughters dance and her son swim.