2024 Diversity Award Recipient Breaks Down Language Barriers for Spanish-Speaking Patients

Paola Gonzalez Says PAs Can Help Patients ‘Get the Care They All Deserve’

May 16, 2024

By Sarah Blugis

Paola Gonzalez, MPAS, PA-C

Born in Bogotá, Colombia and raised in New York City, 2024 Diversity Award recipient Paola Gonzalez, MPAS, PA-C, developed an interest in helping people through a career in healthcare from a young age. Raised in Queens, where Gonzalez says half of the population is Hispanic and so many lack access to Spanish-speaking providers, she couldn’t ignore what was going on around her and even affecting her own family.

“I saw firsthand how the diverse minority communities around me faced diminished resources and healthcare disparities, as well as language barriers,” Gonzalez says. “I wanted to help make a difference in their care.” She wanted the ability to provide patients with culturally sensitive and inclusive care in their own language—and says the PA profession stole her heart.

The Diversity Award honors a PA or PA group that serves as a champion of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the PA profession and/or the patient population or community that they serve.

Gonzalez graduated from PA school in 2004 and gained her MPAS from UTRGV in 2021. For the last 20 years, she has practiced as an English/Spanish bilingual clinical provider in diverse hospital, medical, and private practice settings across multiple specialties—including family medicine, occupational medicine, and oncology. Currently, she practices breast medical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

An important part of her mission, Gonzalez says, is to make sure that language isn’t a barrier to high-quality care for her Spanish-speaking patients. She strives to support the Hispanic community in Texas “as someone they can relate to and who understands the culture, and the struggles we face every day, and who speaks their language.”

She serves as a mentor to other healthcare providers and encourages medical Spanish as an integral part of healthcare. Gonzalez hopes to inspire others through her own journey to become a PA, to show more Latinx and minority students the possibilities in healthcare. She does this through active participation in PAEA’s Project Access, meeting with PA and pre-PA students to mentor them, and presenting to pre-PA organizations.

“As PAs, we have a responsibility to mentor and support diverse healthcare providers and guide our early-career PAs, so that they can grow and be our future professional leaders,” Gonzalez says. “Being able to be a mentor and leader for underrepresented minority pre-PA and PA students truly fills my professional cup.”

Outside of her clinical practice, Gonzalez holds many leadership roles of her own. She is the president of PAs for Latino Health; serves as the AAPA representative for the National Advisory for Mi Hermana-Latina Health Champions with the Healthy Americans Foundation; was appointed to serve as a member of the AAPA Commission on the Health of the Public in 2023; and is on the steering committee for the upcoming 2024 NCCPA Represent Summit.

Gonzalez joined PAs for Latino Health to give back to her community. In her role as president, she created the organization’s first pre-PA mentorship program—an initiative that was approved by the United States Secretary of Health Human Services at the first Hispanic Health Summit in 2023. She has also helped foster new relationships with constituent organizations, PA Schools and other organizations that support the professional practice of Latinx PAs, including addressing and supporting legislative initiatives that address healthcare disparities and access to care.

Her years of clinical practice and leadership have given Gonzalez the knowledge to advocate for both her patients and the PA profession. “I have a passion for uniting communities through education and communication to break down barriers, and promoting a better healthcare environment for patients of all backgrounds,” she says. “It’s through these connections and strategic partnerships that we, as a profession, can truly help our communities get the care they all deserve.”

For Gonzalez, the key to increasing access to optimal team-based medical care is cultivating leaders within the PA community, and uniting forces to work together. The PA profession, she says, can break down barriers, increase inclusivity, and improve care for everyone.

“Diversity is a strength—not a weakness. And we need to embrace it, and all the amazing benefits it brings to all,” Gonzalez says.

Sarah Blugis is AAPA’s Internal Communications Manager. She can be reached at [email protected].

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