Early exposure to some of the challenges facing people in need sparked a career in medicine
By Bob Woods
Photography by Kiko Ricote
xperiencing the American health care system as the daughter of immigrants has given first-year M.D. student Ashley Urtecho a particular perspective — one that has influenced her pathway to a career in medicine. Although she grew up in Abu Dhabi, Urtecho’s parents are from Ecuador and Peru. Both emigrated to New York City — her dad to attend school and become an engineer (which prompted a job in Abu Dhabi), and her mom as a teenager to receive chemotherapy — both eventually becoming U.S. citizens.
But “a lot of my extended family members in New York are undocumented and haven’t had the best access to health care,” Urtecho said. She recalled accompanying her grandparents, who don’t speak English, on doctor visits as their translator. That early exposure to health care was magnified when her mother had complications from surgery and spent a month in the hospital. “I was with her all day, every day,” she said, witnessing the duties of doctors, nurses, and residents — and sparking her interest in medicine.
While a pre-med undergraduate student at New York University, Urtecho volunteered in free clinics, “where the patients reminded me of my own family members,” she said. But it was a stint in a hospital emergency department that inspired her to pursue emergency medicine at the Miller School.
Urtecho’s firsthand encounters with health care disparities drew her to the school’s Mitchell S. Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service (Wolfson DOCS) program. “I want to learn how to navigate people to health care resources and services, which will help me with emergency medicine,” she said.
Through Wolfson DOCS, Urtecho is working with the Miami Medicine Reentry Care Clinic, which helps formerly incarcerated people access the city’s health care system (see related story here). Separately, she’s involved with the Miami Street Medicine mobile clinic, which sends teams of providers into medically underserved neighborhoods throughout Miami-Dade County, offering wound care, health screenings, medications, and case management.
“My goal is to take on a leadership role,” Urtecho said. Considering all she’s seen, and done, thus far, she’s well on her way.