An Interview With Impact Leader Rebecca Vasquez, MD

We’re shining the ProjectIMPACT Spotlight on Rebecca Vasquez, MD, an individual who is making a positive impact in healthcare by reducing racial bias in medicine. Dr. Vasquez is interviewed by DeAnna Diaz, a pre-doctoral dermatology research fellow at Penn Medicine and VisualDx Student Advisory Board member.

Dr. Vasquez
DeAnna Diaz: Please describe your job and your favorite aspects of your current position:

Dr. Vasquez: I am an assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at UT Southwestern where I spend most of my time caring for patients and educating medical students and residents as a clinician educator. I also serve as the inaugural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) director for the department, faculty sponsor for the Agape Clinic (a free dermatology clinic in Dallas staffed by Dermatology faculty and residents), and faculty sponsor for the Future Doctor Pipeline Program. The best part of my job—beyond working with patients—is helping to ensure our trainees are well equipped to treat an increasingly diverse United States (US) population.

DD: What do you see as the biggest challenges in reducing bias in healthcare?

Dr. Vasquez: The lack of diversity in the physician workforce is a big one. As the US population becomes more diverse, patients from historically underrepresented groups can experience unintentional biases that derive from cultural stereotypes and can perpetuate health disparities. Diversity (including race, ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ, socioeconomic, etc.) in the physician workforce can expand our specialty’s ability to conceptualize and respond to the health needs of culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

DD: What are you currently working on that addresses healthcare equity? 

Dr. Vasquez: Directly: As faculty sponsor for the Agape Clinic, our mission is to provide free dermatological care to those who would not otherwise have access to it in our community. With the help of my esteemed colleague Dr. Parth Patel, we are also in the process of creating a national registry that will provide information on free dermatology clinics to increase access to dermatologic care throughout the US.

Indirectly: As part of the AAD’s Diversity Committee, we are working to ensure dermatologic education and research encompasses health disparities, skin of color, and advocates for minority representation in research.

DD: What or who inspires you? 

Dr. Vasquez: I am inspired by my patients.

As a Spanish-speaking doctor, I especially know that I have made a meaningful difference during a visit when I hear a Spanish-speaking patient tell me, “Gracias. Muy amable. Que Dios te bendiga.”

Translated in English, this means, “Thank you. Very kind of you. God bless you.” This is a powerful statement in my community. It tells me I have met their needs, for which they are grateful, and they only wish I could share in the blessing they have received.

DD: What advice would you give to students or residents who are interested in addressing healthcare disparities? 

Dr. Vasquez: You WILL face challenges, but you should never give up. Surround yourself with others who believe in you and support what you are doing.

DD: How do you pledge to make an impact to improve health equity? 

Dr. Vasquez: I pledge to continually raise awareness of inequities, whether in health or medical education, and to work with others to develop strategies to reduce them. In the process, I hope to inspire the next generation of dermatologists to do the same.

This Project IMPACT blog series was created to highlight leaders who are making a positive impact in healthcare by reducing racial bias in medicine.

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