Doctor with students
Hostos alumna Norma Villanueva, M.D., returned to Hostos on Thursday, May 2, to share advice with students interested in becoming doctors and encouraged them to give back to their communities.

During her lecture, which was organized by Alida Camacho of the Behavioral Sciences department, the Bronx-raised pediatrician reflected on her personal and professional journey. Villanueva shared she was dissuaded from pursuing a career in medicine as a teen by her high school biology teacher, who told her she did not think she had what it took to get into medical school. Discouraged, Villanueva went on to work as a file clerk on Wall Street after high school, got married and started a family. It would be about a decade before she went back to school, this time as a single student-parent.

Villanueva, whose family hails from Puerto Rico, initially began studying part-time at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, where she developed an interest in Puerto Rican studies. She then attended Hostos from 1976-77, during which time she participated in the College community’s campaign for the 500 building, and earned her bachelor’s degree at Lehman College. She remained in the Bronx for medical school, obtaining her medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and later earned her Master’s in Public Health at Harvard University.

The tenacious doctor served families in the Bronx—as well as Brooklyn— throughout much of her career, and she is currently an associate professor and the regional director of Medical Education A.T. Still University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona, where she teaches and mentors medical students.

Villanueva spoke of the opportunities available to students at A.T. Still during the lecture and offered to be a resource for those interested in applying to the school. She also urged them to not put stock in opinions offered by those who do not have their best interest in mind. “I wasted 10 years of my life because of a biology teacher who said to me ‘You just ain’t smart enough,’” she reminded.

Villanueva said she hopes her story will encourage and empower students to become doctors, and she urged them to give back to underserved communities, stressing the importance of patients having access to primary care physicians who come from their communities or similar backgrounds.

Fabián Wander, director of the Health and Wellness Center at Hostos, said he was delighted to have Dr. Villanueva return to Hostos to speak about her experiences.

“It’s important that current students hear directly from successful alumni like Dr. Villanueva, who understand the journey and can inspire them to attain their dreams,” he said.  “We hope students walked out feeling more confident in applying for medical school or other health care related career paths.”