Author:Jerant, Frederick

President and CEO of National Hispanic Medical Association, Dr. Elena Rios, has dedicated has dedicated majority of her career to finding health care solutions for underserved communities.

Eena Rios, M. D. grew up in Pico Rivera, California, in a tract-home development that had replaced numerous orange and avocado groves. "My grandparents on both sides migrated from Mexico to Los Angeles," she recalls, "and my parents actually lived across the street from each other in Lincoln Heights." She was surrounded by her parents, four siblings, and dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins--a close-knit extended family.

She was one of the first in her family to attend college--her father was a machinist, her mother, a nurse at White Memorial Hospital--but had little idea of exactly what was involved when she applied. "I applied to UCLA, USC--and Stanford, the most expensive college in California. I figured the value of that education had to be outstanding if people were willing to pay so much to attend!"

Ironically, she earned a full scholarship to Stanford's pre-med program, and her move from her little town to Los Angeles was eye-opening. "The Chicano movement was just starting, and it helped me understand more about how society works," she said. And while her upbringing had been in a mostly Caucasian neighborhood, she lived in an all-Hispanic dorm.

It provided her earliest experience with networking. "I met many Latinos from different parts of the country, and we all supported each other in this new cultural situation. It was like having a new family," Rios said. One roomie's father had worked closely with Cesar Chavez; other dorm-mates had relatives who were doctors, politicians and other professionals.

A Washington, D.C. internship during her junior year set her life on a different course. Her work in a private lobbying firm (designing a program that would encourage Hispanics and other minorities to enroll in medical school) helped her realize that she really wanted to be an engine for organizational change.

Upon returning to Stanford, Rios left the pre-med program and earned her degree in human biology, with a minor in public administration. That's how she learned about organizational theory, the concept of "the power elite," healthcare ethics and similar topics.

But the seeds for her life's passion began to bloom decades later, when a Stanford roommate--Maria Echeveste, who served as director of the office of public liaison and later as deputy...

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