Courtesy of Marietta Vasquez

Marietta Vazquez ’90, a professor in pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine, has made strides to connect the medical institution and the community she calls home.

Born in Puerto Rico, Vazquez first came to Yale as an undergraduate, and later returned as a pediatric resident after acquiring a medical degree from the University of Puerto Rico. Vazquez said that acclimating to Yale came with many obstacles, particularly the feeling of being disconnected from home. 

“There were many challenges, one of which was language, as well as being the only minority in my training program and not having role models that I shared a background and culture with,” said Vazquez. “I felt like I was in the middle and didn’t know which way to go.”

In her 27 years of hard work, she has made sure to honor her roots. Along this journey, she has achieved many milestones: becoming the first Latina to be named a voting member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices by the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, the first Latina vice chair in the Department of Pediatrics, and now — in 2021 — the first Latina to be named associate dean at the Yale School of Medicine.

Vazquez was also appointed to the board of the medical school in 2020. She was one of five new members who increased the gender diversity and racial equity of the board. Paula Kavathas, one of the leaders of this initiative and professor of laboratory medicine, immunobiology and molecular, cellular and developmental biology, emphasized that diversifying the board was a pivotal first step in increasing inclusion in the medical school.

A goal is for the diversity of the board to reflect the diversity of the clinicians comprising the medical group,” said Kavathas. This will require a greater proportion of female chairs at the YSM.”

Vasquez was inspired to connect two groups that felt like they were fairly distant from each other: the institution and the vibrant community she grew up in and calls home. Vazquez realized that her dual identities were a great asset, helping her to connect with patients with whom she shares a similar identity to. 

“I’ve realized that a lot of my community is here now, and finding a cultural group with my language and work has allowed me to find the part that I thought I was giving up on moving away from Puerto Rico,” said Vazquez. 

When she first heard of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI, as a space within the medical institution, it struck her as an “aha moment,” in which an abstract sentiment she was passionate about finally took on a real form. 

To Vazquez, getting involved was an organic transition after having experiences advocating for diversity without recognising what it was. This was what made her want to develop expertise and contribute to the DEI field. 

“I’ve always been attracted to things that aren’t completely packaged and are evolving to have space and a palace for people to work hard and be creative,” said Vazquez. “The field of DEI is rapidly evolving, and I feel very privileged to be a part of helping to develop educational components and strategies. It’s not a job, it’s a passion.”

In her role as the vice chair of DEI within pediatrics, her efforts led to that department becoming the first to make diversity training mandatory.

Maryellen Flaherty-Hewitt, one of Vazquez’s colleagues and associate professor of clinical pediatrics, stressed the significance of Vasquez’s initiatives in increasing attention to diversity training education.

“I am proud to be part of this trailblazing Department and am honored to work with Dr. Vazquez, and other amazing faculty and residents who were critical in making this training mandatory,” said Flaherty-Hewitt. “However, while having mandatory diversity training is important, I would say that what I find more impressive is that through Dr. Vazquez’s hard work, diversity and inclusion goes beyond mandatory training and is truly embedded in the culture of our Department.”

To Vazquez, building a strong foundation for discussions about diversity and inclusion is a key priority. 

She said that the first step in understanding DEI is being introduced to the concepts and vocabulary of the issue. Understanding each other’s values is only possible if everyone can process the conversations that are occuring.

“One of the first things that I did was start training events in DEI,” said Vazquez. “The best commitment to this cause is to say we stand behind it and believe that every member of the Pediatrics [Department] should not be taking care of patients unless they have these basic building blocks.”

Her goal for the next three to five years is to improve the inclusivity of the medical school climate to ensure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds feel like they belong. She feels that having difficult conversations is quickly becoming part of who the school is as a community and hopes to further integrate that into the medical school. 

One of her main pieces of advice is that students should not come to Yale just to study, but to treat the city of New Haven as home and assimilate into the community. She hopes that she can show others the love she has for New Haven so that there is increased community involvement for students, faculty and staff.

“I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude and honour for those who came before me. For the Latinos and women in the school of medicine, pediatrics and leadership positions; and for all of my mentors and sponsors who have helped me get me where I am,” said Vazquez. “I have benefited from walking the road they paved, and because I was once a recipient, I feel like I should do the same for the next generation. I hope that when I look back on my career, I will see successors that perceive me as someone they can identify with and are inspired by.”

Mai Chen |