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Shaping Futures: How Shiloff Scholarship Ignited Nohemi Lopez Valdez's Medical Dream

Updated: Nov 6

A culture of philanthropy has the power to transform the future of individuals and communities. A perfect example is the connection Foster School of Medicine student Nohemi Lopez Valdez has with Robert and Sara Shiloff.


Lopez Valdez, a native daughter of our Borderplex region, found herself within reach of her dream to become a physician. However, her aspiration to serve her community through medicine encountered financial constraints.


Along came Robert and Sara Shiloff, both intent on forging a brighter future for El Paso's health care change agents through the Robert and Sara Shiloff Scholarship. The scholarship empowers homegrown talent like Lopez Valdez and addresses the region’s health care provider shortage.


Born and raised amid the vibrant neighborhoods of our Borderplex region, Lopez had a lifelong dream to heal and serve her community as a physician. When it came time to apply for medical school, she needed a path where she could avoid taking on the heavy financial burden of a medical education.


The irony was not lost on her. Lopez Valdez aspired to serve historically underserved communities in our region. These unincorporated neighborhoods, known as colonias, are home to multigenerational families who live in structures that often lack basic infrastructure services such as water, electricity and paved roads.



Her first opportunity to work directly with families from colonias came as an undergraduate student, when she volunteered at the Salud Sin Fronteras Student Run Free Clinic, a health center established by TTUHSC El Paso students and faculty to provide health care to migrant farmworker families.


Yet as each day drew her closer to her dream, it also brought her closer to an agonizing decision: Could she afford to accept her place at the Foster School of Medicine, or would she have to relinquish it, her dreams consumed by financial uncertainty?


Thanks to the generous gift from the Shiloffs, Lopez Valdez brought her vision to life at the Foster School of Medicine. She served as a student director with the school’s Medical Student Run Clinic (MSRC) in the far east El Paso County neighborhood of Sparks, which aids the very colonias she observed growing up.


“Receiving a scholarship has been a tremendous blessing,” said Lopez. “It’s a life-changing opportunity that has allowed me to fully realize my dream of becoming a physician with minimal financial burden.”


Already, she is wielding her medical knowledge to combat a pervasive health issue in the region: breast cancer, which, according to the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, affects an estimated 120 out of every 100,000 women in the region. By assisting with mammograms and breast cancer screenings at the MSRC, she's making tangible strides toward her goal of enhancing health care outcomes for the women of her community.


“With my scholarship,” added Lopez Valdez, “I can focus on my studies. Not worrying about finances means I can focus on extracurricular activities like the student run clinic, which allows me to give back to the community that has given me so much. It’s the most significant part of my medical education.”




The U.S.’s growing student debt crisis, often seen as a distant national challenge, hits painfully close to home for aspiring medical professionals like Lopez. The specter of debt and its potential to derail students is a profound issue our nation grapples with. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the median medical school debt among students in 2021 was $200,000, not including their undergraduate debt. In total, 71% of all medical students have education-related debt after graduation.


A Hispanic student born in El Paso to parents originally from Mexico, Lopez Valdez’s story takes on an added layer of urgency, given the glaring disparity of Hispanic physicians in the U.S. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, as of 2019 Hispanics made up a mere 5.2% of all practicing physicians. As someone connected to her region's rich cultural tapestry, she’s perfectly positioned to help alleviate this gap and forge better connections with Hispanic patients.


Thanks to the benevolence of community leaders like Robert and Sara Shiloff, TTUHSC El Paso is transforming students like Lopez Valdez into tomorrow's health care heroes, while delivering a more diverse health care landscape. Their continued support helps the university reshape the future of health care in our community and beyond.


As the only health sciences center on the U.S.-Mexico border, TTUHSC El Paso is combating the health disparities that persist in this diverse, underserved region. It’s imperative for the university to foster a health care ecosystem reflective of the rich culture found here.


To realize this vision, TTUHSC El Paso champions scholarship programs that empower talented Borderplex students. Over 80% of El Paso's population, according to recent census data, identifies as Hispanic, underlining the need for physicians who intimately understand this community's unique health needs and culture. Scholarships act as springboards for these bright minds, ensuring they can pursue medical dreams without the shadow of financial burden.


With these scholarships as a catalyst, the narrative of Lopez Valdez transforms from a tale of a promising student held back by financial constraints into a beacon of hope and determination, underlining the power of donor impact in shaping shared futures.


 

At TTUHSC El Paso, we are committed to growing our own health care heroes and changing the state of health care in our Borderplex. For more information about how you can help, please contact andrea.tawney@ttuhsc.edu or craig.holden@ttuhsc.edu or visit ttuhscep.edu/elpaso/ia/giving/.

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