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Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we've asked faculty to share their stories with us. Below are a few submissions:

Dr. Karina Leiva Lopez, Chief Resident of the Endodontics Program
University of Puerto Rico Health Centers - San Juan

My name is Karina Leiva Lopez, born and raised in Costa Rica, as the eldest of 4 siblings of a modest, not perfect family. I am now the Chief Resident of the PG Program in Endodontics at NYU Langone Dental Medicine affiliate site- University of Puerto Rico Health Centers. I graduated from dental school at the Universidad de Costa Rica, and completed a 3 year international program at Nova Southeastern University.
I am very proud to be Hispanic and share my heritage, culture, and values with everyone around me. I've been able to grow and learn from my new experiences with different cultures and backgrounds. It has been very enriching to be exposed to diversity and to have the opportunity to learn from others everyday. It has felt like a luxury that I'm very grateful to be a part of.
I decided to apply to NYU Langone Dental Medicine Postdoctoral Residency Programs after analyzing different programs and matching the values and visions with my goals. What caught my attention was that NYU Langone Dental Medicine was born as an institution to help minorities, who actually need the most assistance. I've worked as a volunteer in different projects, so I was committed to continue towards this mission. It was the greatest blessing when I was accepted into the program in July 2020. Here, I've had the opportunity to reach my goal of becoming an endodontist, and continue helping people. It was a true honor to be selected as Chief Resident, and has given me the chance to help my co-residents and my program; I wanted to be a leader to my classmates, to be there and help them when they needed it. I like to be the one who cheers them on and inject positivism and humor into our daily stressful schedules.
My journey to becoming a dentist was not traditional, I had financial limitations during dental school in Costa Rica. I found a solution by starting my own clothing business and even took a few relevant courses at the university. Working and studying at the same time was not easy, I struggled with depression and had to leave school for a period for my mental health. Eventually, I was convinced that I had to achieve my dream and become a dentist, so I worked tirelessly to make enough money to return to dental school. I returned a year later, got the best grades, was granted a scholarship, and finished my studies at the top of my class.
Completing my studies and becoming a dentist restored my self confidence, and I continued towards another dream: becoming a dentist in the United States. After putting my fears aside, I applied to U.S. Dental Schools, and enrolled at Nova Southeastern University. I was determined to finish school without interruptions this time, but faced the new challenge of studying in a new language that I had limited knowledge of. This was intimidating, but I stayed the course, and performed well! I had my baby at the end of my third year, and learning to be a new mother while completing my studies was very trying, but I was determined to do both well. I finished second in my class, and graduated with the highest honors. Along my path of dental school for the second time, I had the support of my lovely husband, who continues to encourage me today.
I am truly grateful to be where I am today, and thankful for all the challenges I faced. They helped me develop the skills and perseverance that I needed for success. It has made me into the woman I am now, maybe with a strong personality, but one who genuinely cares for and wants to help others!
Upon completion of my residency, I aspire to become a Board Certified Endodontist, and above all, my wish is to help alleviate patients' pain. My determination, commitment, and hard work through my challenging past is proof that "Where there's a will, there's a way," or in Spanish, "Querer es poder." Gracias for taking the time to read my story... I am very thankful to be here.

-Dr. Leiva Lopez

Dr. Brett Parks, Pediatric PGY-2 resident, shares why he chose to do his residency with us:

"I am a second year chief pediatric dental resident training at a NYU Langone Dental Medicine site in Yakima, Washington. Yakima is a city with a large Latino population, including migrant farm workers and generations of immigrant families. One of the reasons I chose to train at this location, aside from the clinical and didactic excellence, is that I get to spend at least half of my days speaking Spanish and communicating with our families in their first language. There are so many barriers in getting adequate health care for the kids we work with. The most rewarding thing I get to do is contribute to our organization's efforts in improving health equity for underserved patient populations. That has always been my dream, and I get to live that out thanks to the opportunities here at NYU Langone Dental Postdoctoral Residency Programs."

-Dr. Parks

Our first spotlight is on Dr. Luisa Recio, one of the Associate Directors of our AEGD Program:

"I’m very happy to be here and be part of the multicultural family at NYU Langone Dental Medicine Postdoctoral Residency Programs. I’ve been part of NYU Langone Dental Medicine, formerly Lutheran Medical Center, for about 19 years now. I am the Associate Director for the FL, TX, and LA region, and previously MA as well.
I’m originally from Colombia, South America, and came to the USA in 1994 to find the “American Dream.” Sadly, my country was very troubled and in a long war due to drug trafficking and guerrillas; during this time in my young life, I found it to be very difficult to grow in that environment, personally as a young woman, and professionally as a dentist. It took a lot of strength and determination to make the decision to leave my family behind in order to come here and look for educational opportunities that would help me have a better future. It was not easy, I had to fight hard to get a chance in higher education that my country or origin was not able to provide for me. After a few years of hard work… I found it. So, I want to say to all young latino women out there- something that you have heard before, BUT it’s so true… don’t EVER give up on your dreams. Believe. It is POSSIBLE.
It was in my last year of dental school, during my externship, when I discovered NYU Langone and their mission in public health and education. I had a conversation with a Dental Director from a community health center in Boston, MA. We talked about the program, which pushed me to go for a job interview. I fell in love with their mission and commitment to support the public health community and their desire to expand education with an innovative approach beyond universities. Their model was to use our own existing resources at community health centers, paired with video teleconferencing for supplementing didactic education. In short, I was inspired by their desire to make an impact in the dentistry field and their goal to build the next generations of “Supergeneralist.” I firmly believe that education is the single most powerful tool to help people change their path in life. We, the Hispanic Community, need to help each other and create opportunities for all to be educated, as this is the only way to make an equal and fair society. It is time we share our strengths, family values, love, kindness, and pass it on to make a better world. I am proud of my background, my culture, and my heritage. I love my job. We ALL matter!

“We only have what you give. It’s by spending yourself that you become rich.” -Isabel Allende"

-Dr. Recio

Each year, from September 15 to October 15, the nation observes and celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month. This month provides a dedicated opportunity to honor the unique histories, diversity of cultures, achievements, and contributions of people of Hispanic descent. The commemoration began as a one-week observance in 1968, and by 1988, grew to be a month-long celebration. National Hispanic Heritage month spans from the middle of September to the middle of October to align with the independence days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile.

Below is a list of different ways that you can join in the celebration.

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