Health care in all languages

Healthcare students practice on dummy
Kindergarten graduation in Mexico

Rebeca Flores-Lopez has always been a hard worker. This strong work ethic began as early as elementary school.  Being raised in Mexico, Flores-Lopez only knew how to speak Spanish. So when her family moved to Arizona when she was 7 years old, she was in for a bit of culture shock. It was not until she transferred to a more advanced elementary school in fifth grade that she realized how much the language barrier had put her behind. But even as a 10-year-old, Flores-Lopez knew becoming fluent in English would require hard work. By the time she entered middle school, her English had greatly improved and she was at the top of her class academically.

Her Hispanic heritage has also pushed her to overcome other difficulties, such as being a first-generation student applying to college without the help of her parents.

“Since my parents were always working and did not know English, I’ve had to rely on myself and find my own resources in order to succeed—such as filling out FAFSA and PA school applications on my own,” Flores-Lopez said.

Although she wanted to be veterinarian as a child, witnessing her parents’ struggle to receive health care from Spanish-speaking providers sparked her desire to become a physician assistant (PA). She wants to serve the Hispanic community and use her bilingual skills and love of medicine to help others.

“I have spent most of my life translating for various family members, including being woken up in the middle of the night to go to the ER because my family felt more comfortable with me being there to translate for them.”

Flores-Lopez playing with children while providing medical care in Mexico

NAU’s commitment to serve the medically underserved was one reason Flores-Lopez chose to attend PA school after graduating from Grand Canyon University with a bachelor degree in biology. Her goals as a physician assistant align with the values of the university.

While being a part of the health care industry, she has seen areas that she wants to help change as a physician assistant. Community health centers are a great way to provide complete care to patients, and Flores-Lopez would like to see them grow in popularity. It can be overwhelming and time-consuming to find primary care providers, dentists, psychologists, lab work technicians and physical therapists in different locations. Many people do not have the time or energy to receive proper healthcare without the ease of community health centers.

“I think it would be valuable to see more efficient collaboration and communication between the various health care fields and specialties. I have witnessed situations where one field may not be fully aware of another field’s full scope of practice. I believe if we work closer together, like in community health centers, we will be able to utilize each other’s skills and greatly benefit our patients.”

Being the first member of her family to pursue higher education has made her journey to PA school difficult but worthwhile—she attributes her drive and motivation to her mother, watching her make sacrifices and work hard to provide a great life for her family while growing up. Flores-Lopez has inspired her younger siblings to attend college as well, and hopes to mentor other first-generation students to help them navigate their path forward.

“It has been a difficult journey at times, but I feel very fortunate and blessed that many things have fallen into place in my life to get me to where I am today. I never would have imagined that I would be pursuing a master’s program in medicine. I know that it will all be worth it in the end, and I hope that I can become the best PA that I can be in order to give back to my community.”

Northern Arizona University LogoMaddie Blunier | NAU Communications

NAU Communications