FEATURED: Third-year University of Texas Rio Grande Valley medical student Isha Mittal and Dr. Michael Hocker, Dean, UTRGV School of Medicine, display Mittal’s recent U.S. Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Award.
Photograph By RAÚL GONZÁLEZ
Isha Mittal, third-year medical student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, advocates for LGBTQIA+ health
By DIMITRA TREJO
Isha Mittal, a third-year medical student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, is the most recent recipient of the U.S. Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Award.
The award was established to recognize the contributions to public health from medical students across the country.
The UTRGV School of Medicine nominated Mittal for their commitment to meeting the Healthy People 2030 initiative established by the U.S. Public Health Service.
Mittal’s passion and work for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) health and advocacy stood out among the many nominees for the award.
Mittal, who comes to UTRGV from Colombia University with a Master’s Degree in Public Health – said it has always been a goal to uplift those who identify as LGBTQIA+.
“My program focused on sexual and reproductive health – and that work continued here for me in the Rio Grande Valley,” Mittal said. “My goal is to be a pediatrician and to work in adolescent health. I want to work with queer youth, and I plan to do this work pretty much for my entire life.”
Getting to Work
Mittal hopes to use the award to highlight the importance of training physicians to be more aware of the differences within in our communities.
“A lot of the battle is educating people, increasing cultural competency for our providers, and normalizing the fact that LGBTQIA+ people exist… especially LGBTQIA+ youth,” Mittal said. “So, oftentimes, the first step is just starting that conversation.”
Since the beginning of medical school, Mittal has been passionately working to cast light on queer health, even re-starting the UTRGV Medical Student Pride Alliance group on campus, the local chapter of the national MSPA organization.
“I took on the role as lead for MSPA right before the pandemic, and student engagement has been difficult,” Mittal said. “Nonetheless, we persevered and that is why we are being highlighted by the U.S. Public Health. In 2021, we put on an LGBTQIA+ UTRGV Conference in partnership with the UTRGV Office of Diversity. It was a day-long virtual event, and we invited local speakers to focus on what the experience of being queer in the Valley is like.”
Conference attendees received LGBTQIA+ resources unique to Valley residents, Mittal said.
“We have a lot of intersections in the RGV,” they said. “English may be a second language, if they speak English at all. We have a big immigrant population and a historically, medically underserved community, so it’s a very unique place to bring these resources to. People were very grateful.”
Mittal hopes to continue organizing LGBTQIA+ specific events to raise awareness and bridge the healthcare gaps not only in the South Texas region, but also around the country.
“Our conference was the cornerstone of the work we are doing in the Valley and why we were recognized,” Mittal said. “The efforts we are putting into highlighting resources for LGBTQIA+ people are one I’m passionate about, but it also simultaneously meets the priorities of the Public Health Service’s Healthy People 2030 goals.”
One of those project goals is providing more mental health resources across the United States.
“The project has a set of goals that the nation wants to see happen in the next 10 years, and one we showcased was increasing treatment for people with depression,” Mittal said. “For this reason, we had mental health providers talking about those resources, as well as addressing bullying and how to combat that in our environment.”
Mittal has become part of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Organization (GLMA) fellows’ program – a national organization committed to ensuring health equity for LGBTQIA+ and all sexual and gender minority individuals that aims to further LGBTQIA+ health – and is continuing their studies to become a pediatric physician with a focus on LGBTQIA+ health.
“If I can be just one more person to provide this specific care, especially in this region,” Mittal said, “it will make a huge difference to those patients.”
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley granted candidacy for state’s first School of Pediatric Medicine
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is now the first university in Texas – and one of only 10 in the nation – ready to prepare and graduate Doctors of Podiatric Medicine (DPM).
The UTRGV School of Podiatric Medicine has been granted candidacy by the Council on Podiatric Medical Education (CPME). The Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) program has also been approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges(SACSCOC).
The School of Podiatric Medicine will begin recruiting soon for its inaugural class of 40 students.
Podiatrists are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the foot and ankle. Students who have completed at least 90 credit hours of undergraduate studies are eligible to apply to enter the program upon graduation. The program entails four years of medical education at the SOPM, followed by three years of hospital-based post-graduate residency training.
The application deadline for new students is July 20, 2022. Classes are scheduled for Aug. 8 at the UTRGV School of Podiatric Medicine, located in Harlingen within UT Health RGV, the clinical arm of the UTRGV School of Medicine, at 2102 Treasure Hills Blvd.
Meeting a Need
UTRGV President Guy Bailey said the new school expands on the university’s mission to improve access to quality healthcare in the Rio Grande Valley – where the need for podiatrists is high.
“Many people in our region who suffer from diabetes require specialty podiatric care,” Bailey said. “We train our future doctors in the UTRGV School of Medicine to address complications from diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, and now we will be able to meet this very specific healthcare need in South Texas.”
Diabetes, which can lead to foot disorders like neuropathy, infection and even amputation, is prevalent at an estimated rate of 26 percent in the Valley.
Dr. Javier Cavazos, DPM, Assistant Dean of Clinical Education for the new School of Podiatric Medicine, said students and faculty will serve the community through UT Health RGV, the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program, Coastal Bend Veterans Affairs, and Federally Qualified Health Centers.
“Diseases endemic to our region – like diabetes and cardiovascular disease – are a research focus for our faculty and students,” he said. “We will collaborate with the UTRGV School of Medicine and the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute (STDOI) to provide evidence-based practice and medical research to our community.”
Dr. Javier La Fontaine, DPM, MS, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for the UTRGV School of Podiatric Medicine, said it is a point of pride for UTRGV to be the first of its kind in the UT System.
“We are the first School of Podiatric Medicine within a major state university system,” La Fontaine said. “The support of the UT System helps ensure that our students will succeed in becoming not only dedicated podiatric physicians, but also research scientists, public health professionals and educators.”
Gilbert Morín, Director of admissions for the School of Podiatric Medicine, said the school’s tuition is among the lowest in the country, as UTRGV continues its commitment to providing access to a high-quality education at an affordable rate.
“We want to make this level of education available to students of all backgrounds,” Morín said.
Armen Kirakossian, graduate of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, named men’s golf head coach at UCLA
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) Vaqueros men’s golf team learned on Monday, June 13, 2022, that graduate (2006-10) and former head coach (2014-15) Armen Kirakossian has been named the men’s golf head coach at UCLA.
During his tenure as the program’s head coach, Kirakossian led the team to three top-five finishes and guided Nicolas Platret to the Western Athletic Conference Individual Championship to advance to an NCAA Regional, becoming the program’s first since 1978.
As a student-athlete, Kirakossian won the individual medal at the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championships as a senior while also earning America Sky First Team All-Conference honors.
As a junior, Kirakossian won the Great West Conference Championship while earning First Team All-Conference and earned Cleveland Golf/Srixon All-American Scholar honors.
Kirakossian shot a program record 204 (67, 66, 71) at the 2009 PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championships. His second round 66 is tied for the fourth lowest single-round score in program history.
Kirakossian takes the reigns as the sixth head coach in UCLA history after spending five seasons at Arizona State University, where he helped the Sun Devils to four consecutive NCAA Championship appearances, including a runner-up finish in 2021-22 and a third-place finish in 2020-21.
Kirakossian, who was named a Strickland Award winner as the top assistant coach in the country following the 2018-19 season, coached three consecutive Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year award winners from 2019-22 and a total of 11 All-Americans at Arizona State.
Prior to his time at Arizona State, Kirakossian spent two seasons at Pepperdine as an assistant coach helping the Waves to their best finish at the NCAA Championships since 2005.
Karen Villarreal and Danny Elizondo contributed to this story. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).