Name: Dr. Luis Padilla, M.D.
Hometown: Modesto, California
CHCI Program(s)/Year: 1995-1996 Edward Roybal Public Health Fellow
CHCI Program Placement(s): Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Current Position/Organization: Associate Administrator Bureau Health Workforce, Director National Health Service Corps, HRSA, HHS
1. Many CHCI alumni and current program participants have battled and continue to battle common challenges as they strive to become Latino leaders in their communities: living and working in low-income communities, some in single-parent households, as recent immigrants, DREAMers, or first-generation American citizens. What challenges did you have to face to get to where you are today?
My challenges were far less than that of my parents who immigrated to the US in the early 1970s illegally, faced deportation, working multiple jobs, and all the while being separated from two of their children for four years. Yes, we were low-income, we had to learn another language and acclimate to our new home. But for me, joining my parents, and a younger brother in the United States, at the age of seven was easy compared to my parent’s struggles. The recurrent educational challenge for me was coming from a family unfamiliar with higher education and all the support needed to help a student succeed in school. I had to learn a lot of that by myself and with the help of others. However, I view my family background as a strength. It provided me a sense of resilience and a work ethic that my parents modeled throughout my life, even now.
2. What motivated you to apply to the CHCI program(s), and why do you think they are important for Latino youth?
I was at the time enrolled at the George Washington University’s School of Public Health and had an interest in health policy. I had not previously been a part of a Latino focused leadership program and thought it would help me form new connections to other aspiring young Latino professionals from different parts of the country.
3. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?
After the CHCI program I completed a post-baccalaureate program at Wake Forest University, and then I enrolled into the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. It was during my second year of medical school that I was awarded a National Health Service Scholarship to fund my medical education in exchange for primary care service in an underserved area of the. Following the completion of my family medicine residency at Brown University I started my medical career and NHSC service at Unity Health Care a federally qualified health center in Washington, D.C. After more than ten years at Unity I left in February 2015 to serve as the deputy associate administrator and now as the associate administrator of the Bureau of Health Workforce at HRSA, HHS. For the last seven years my wife and I have also been very busy raising two children.
4. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
It had an enormous impact on my career and development as a leader. The program introduced me to health policy experts, specifically those in the area of minority health and health disparities, that helped shape my future career choices and decisions. It was at that time that my interest in underserved care really began. In addition, I was exposed to federal service and what that career entailed. Lastly, I formed relationships at my placement office that have lasted for years up to present day.
5. How do you continue to give back to the community?
In addition to my NHSC service commitment which I fulfilled at Unity and the additional seven years I continued on at the health center as medical director and physician, I joined the board of directors of an area nonprofit. I helped lead this small, local non-profit whose mission was to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income community members. The organization’s main project was operating and expanding a farmer’s market. I truly enjoyed the two years I spent on this very active board which I saw aligned with our work at Unity to address a major social determinant of health, access to fresh fruits and vegetables. I also enjoyed the opportunity to contribute to the neighborhood where I worked and lived. At the time my family lived 6 blocks from the health center and we still live less than a mile from it.
6. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
I like to think in five-year increments as that period of time allows for learning and doing. I am in year two of my current career as a federal SES member and plan to continue in that role for the foreseeable future. I do not have any immediate plans to leave HRSA or BHW as there is much good work to be done. But during that time I hope to continue to learn as much as possible about effective federal service leadership and help realize BHW’s vision of making a positive and sustained impact in a health professional’s career, particularly in rural and underserved areas, across the country.
7. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
Continue to explore your strengths and limitations. Gaining better insight, I believe, is foundation to good leadership habits. The second is seeking out feedback opportunities from peers, mentors, and leaders. I think this is important for continued growth and development. Lastly, along the way you may have opportunities to reside in different communities, and if so, make every attempt to get to know it and its members better and in whatever small way get involved and engage with the community. I think this helps build and sustain the habit of social stewardship.