Latina physicians champion Hispanic health issues

Focus on health disparities and addiction treatment for Hispanic Heritage Month

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

October 05, 2012
  Castield-Matilde     Garcia-Maria
  Matilde Castiel, MD    Maria Garcia, MD

Two dynamic and accomplished Latina physicians and faculty members stepped forward to  address Hispanic/Latino health issues in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is observed in the United States from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. On Tuesday, Sept. 25, Maria Garcia, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine and family medicine & community health, presented “Addressing Hispanic Health Disparities” at UMass Memorial Medical Center—Memorial Campus, and on Tuesday, Oct. 9, Matilde Castiel, MD, associate professor of family medicine & community health, will present “From Castro to Drug Addiction” from noon to 1 p.m. in the Faculty Conference Room at UMass Medical School.


A native of Puerto Rico who moved to the United States for educational opportunities, Dr. Garcia noted that multiple factors contribute to the heath disparities in the Hispanic population, and a multipronged approach is needed to reduce them. She emphasized the need for cultural sensitivity, a need that may best be met by helping more Hispanics and Latinos join the health care workforce.

Garcia draws these insights from multiple roles in her own career as well as from the literature. After caring for a large adult primary care practice for a number of years, she now divides her time between providing clinical care as a hospitalist, advancing medical education as associate program director for the UMMS Internal Medicine Residency, and shaping health care policy as medical director for Clinical Pharmacy Services, a program of Commonwealth Medicine, the Medical School’s public health consulting division.

Dr. Castiel, who was born in Cuba and came to the United States as a young child, is a community-based primary care physician for UMass Memorial Health Care, and the executive director of Hector Reyes House, a substance abuse treatment facility for Latino men that is the only one of its kind in Worcester. Hector Reyes House is the first project of the Latin American Health Alliance, which Castiel helped establish in 2006 to identify and address the significant health disparities that exist for Latinos living in the greater Worcester area.

In her interview for the Worcester Women's Oral History Project to document women's work and cultural experiences, Castiel said that being a doctor "has meant a lot because I  have been able to help in the lives of many people. And not only with their health issues, but in many aspects of their lives."As faculty director for the Population Health Clerkship “Advocacy for the Underserved, Emphasis on Latino Men with Addiction,” Castiel teaches what she practices to medical and nursing students. Her talk will reflect on how her experiences as a Latina in America have informed her work.

More than tireless individual advocates for understanding and meeting the health care needs of Hispanics and Latinos, Garcia and Castiel are, perhaps equally important, role models for future generations of Latino health care professionals. “Latino health is my passion,” said Garcia. “We have to do better.”