History of LMSA Midwest

LMSA Midwest is proud to highlight the history of the Latino diaspora to the region, the origin of the Latino Medical Student movement, and the evolution of the movement into LMSA Midwest. Below is a summary of major events leading to the current formation of Latinos and LMSA in the Midwest. 

We proudly cite Latino, Hispanic, or of Spanish Origin+ Identified Student Leaders in Medicine as our primary source for compiling this history and encourage members to read this publication for a fuller picture of Latinos’ histories in medicine and the Midwest.

Latino Migration and Transformation in the U.S:

Since the mid-19th century, various factors have shaped the migration of Latinos to the U.S. Midwest, including states like Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Economic opportunities have long drawn Latino laborers to the region, as they sought to achieve the “American Dream” and establish temporary residences. Historically, labor practices often discouraged permanent settlement to keep labor costs low.

During the 1910s, factors like the Mexican Revolution and World War I disrupted the pattern of temporary residence. The Mexican Revolution led many to seek better salaries and safety in the United States, creating an immigrant workforce. World War I reduced European migration, leading to a labor shortage in the Midwest. The Immigration Act of 1917 allowed Mexican immigrants to enter under a temporary guest-worker contract program, and employers began to hire entire families, encouraging a more permanent presence.

Manuel Gamio, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, created this map from the 1920 U.S. census. (University of Chicago Press, 1930)
Santa Fe railroad workers, including many Mexicans, Fort Madison, Iowa, ca. 1920. University of Iowa

World War II created more opportunities, with many Americans joining the military and creating worker shortages in the United States. The Bracero Program, a guest-worker agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, provided contract male guest workers to fill labor gaps, leading to increased Latino migration. As U.S. immigration policies changed, the U.S. Midwest saw a diverse expansion of the Latino diaspora, with Puerto Ricans and immigrants from various Latin American countries settling in the region.

The growing and diverse Latino population has significantly influenced the demographics and culture of the U.S. Midwest. This demographic shift continues today, with Latinos comprising a substantial portion of the Midwest’s population, reflecting their essential role in the region’s history and development.

“Karl Kae Knecht Cartoon,” August 12, 1943, University of Evansville Libraries, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Digital Archive

The Journey of Latino Education in the Midwest: Overcoming Challenges and Achieving Success

As the Latino population in the Midwest grew, their children entered the educational system, where language barriers became a significant challenge. Immigrant parents faced difficulties in communicating with teachers, impacting students’ academic success. Unfair labels like “uninterested” or “uncaring” were applied to monolingual Spanish-speaking parents, although many were frustrated with existing communication models.

Latino students also faced segregation, with Spanish-speaking children often placed in separate mobile classrooms, resulting in unequal education. Eventually, educators recognized the benefits of bilingual education and the drawbacks of separating students based on language.

Various Latino subgroups encountered unique obstacles, such as Puerto Ricans in Chicago. They grappled with issues like a lack of Spanish-speaking service workers, high infant mortality rates, unemployment, police brutality, and limited educational opportunities. Organizations like the Young Lords emerged to advocate for Latino youth. The ASPIRA Network, established in 1968 in Chicago, aimed to promote self-determination through education, leadership development, and cultural awareness, significantly contributing to reducing high school dropout rates.

Young Lords members march with a sign that reads, "The Party of the Young Lords serves and protects your people.". Iris Morales, ¡Palante, Siempre Palante!, 1996. Film. - Jim Westcott
Puerto Ricans demonstrate for civil rights at City Hall in Manhattan, 1967. Photograph by Al Ravenna. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

As the percentage of Latino students in primary and secondary education increased, the number of Latino college students in the Midwest also rose, with Illinois seeing a notable increase. Latinos are now the largest non-white racial or ethnic group in U.S. college campuses, emphasizing the need for universities to develop curricula reflecting the diverse backgrounds of their students.

The Illinois State Legislature responded to health disparities by establishing the Urban Health Program at the University of Illinois in 1978, which supported Latino student acceptance and retention in the University of Illinois College of Medicine. Building on this success, the Hispanic Center of Excellence (UIC HCOE) at the University of Illinois Chicago created an educational pipeline program guiding students from high school to medical school faculty, focusing on addressing the underrepresentation of Latinos in the medical profession despite federal funding cuts in 2006.

Fostering Latino Medical Student Networks: The Birth of The Latino Midwest Medical Student Association

Programs like UIC HCOE played a crucial role in supporting Latino students as they pursued medical careers, easing their path into medical school and fostering connections throughout Chicagoland. In the early 1980s, select Midwest universities began backing student organizations dedicated to Latino students interested in healthcare professions. Chicago witnessed the emergence of two significant organizations: the Latin American Student Association – Pre-Health Committee at Loyola University and the Health-Oriented Latino Association (HOLA) at UIC. Some students who entered UIC College of Medicine in 1982 were actively involved in these premedical organizations, driven by a shared commitment to addressing challenges faced by Latino communities. Their dedication led to the establishment of La Raza Medical Student Association (La RaMA) at UIC in 1983, inspired by a California-based medical student organization with a mission aligning with their objectives, which aimed to instill ethnic and cultural pride in all Latin American people.

In the late 1980s, UIC La RaMA students forged connections with peers at other Midwest institutions, including the University of Michigan, where the Latin American & Native American Medical Association was founded in 1985. They convened during medical conferences, maintained contact through telephone meetings, and secured funding for travel. These interactions fueled a desire to unify institution-based medical student groups under a broader regional umbrella. This vision materialized in 1990 with the formal establishment of the Latino Midwest Medical Student Association (LMMSA) in Chicago. In the same year, LMMSA organized its inaugural regional conference, convening approximately twenty students, primarily from UIC College of Medicine and the University of Michigan Medical School. The trust and shared experiences among Latino medical trainees fostered a growing sense of interconnectedness across Midwest universities and eventually extended nationwide.

University of Michigan Students Picket
La Raza Unida memorabilia, including a photo of Rosie Castro when she was a 23-year-old candidate for San Antonio City Council in 1971, is on display during the 50th anniversary reunion of the party in San Antonio on Thursday. Credit: Eddie Gaspar / The Texas Tribune

In 1999, at LMMSA’s tenth regional conference, a significant connection was forged with the National Boricua Latino Health Organization (NBLHO), its Northeastern counterpart. NBLHO, initially known as the Boricua Health Organization (BHO) since 1972, had established multiple chapters of Latino medical students at Northeastern medical schools. During this conference, leaders from NBLHO, including Philip DeChavez, MD, MPH, and Edgar Figueroa, MD, proposed LMMSA’s involvement in the emerging National Network of Latin American Medical Students (NNLAMS). Dr. DeChavez, then a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania and NBLHO President, strongly advocated for the unification of Latino medical students under a single national organization. LMMSA’s co-presidents, Marcelo Venegas, MD, from UIC, and Sandra Torrente, MD, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, enthusiastically embraced the idea, and their collaboration was celebrated with a night of salsa dancing. Subsequently, at the 2000 National Conference of the National Hispanic Medical Association, LMMSA officially joined NNLAMS.

Forging a Path: The Growth and Impact of Latino Medical Student Organizations in the Midwest

As LMMSA expanded its national connections, it also enhanced its regional presence and programming. Within the Midwest, leaders introduced a distinctive logo representing the organization’s mission, featuring a caduceus staff against a globe symbolizing North and South America, with sun flames in the background. Following NNLAMS’s attainment of nonprofit status under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3), LMMSA formally adopted the name NNLAMS Midwest. Two pivotal annual meetings were established: the House of Delegates meeting, facilitating direct communication between the regional board and chapter leaders to discuss regional development strategies, and the Annual Regional Conference, which continued to foster networking among medical students in the Midwest. These conferences also offered opportunities for career development and addressed health disparities in the Latino communities of the Midwest. Workshops featured panels with physician leaders and medical admissions faculty, providing valuable guidance on building a successful medical career. NNLAMS aimed to bridge the gap between medical students and dedicated faculty committed to nurturing the next generation of Latino physicians, addressing a need identified by Dr. Guerra and other leaders.

In the spring of 2006, significant events unfolded in the realm of medical student activism. Across the nation, in both large cities and small towns, hundreds of thousands to millions of people took to the streets to protest H.R.4437, a bill that aimed to categorize undocumented immigrants as felons. In Chicago, the March 10th demonstrations saw more than 100,000 individuals marching for immigrant rights. In May, over 400,000 Chicago residents took part in the largest such demonstration in the city’s history. Latino medical students, including Jared Terronez, MD, a former NNLAMS Midwest regional president from LaRaMA and nearby Chicago chapters, used their white coats as a symbol of their commitment to advocating for underserved patient populations, making it clear that they were the future of medicine and that their role in society should not be ignored, both metaphorically and visually.


Tens of thousands of demonstrators gather in Chicago's Federal Plaza to protest HR 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, on March 10, 2006. The bill before Congress in part makes it a criminal act to help undocumented immigrants. (UPI Photo/Brian Kersey)
Finding a Familia in Medical School by Gracia Vargas

These events, along with the heightened awareness of immigrant communities’ challenges, inspired Latino student leaders to propose a “national day of action.” Daniel Turner-Lloveras, MD, then a medical student at the University of Chicago, championed this effort. The proposal gained enthusiastic support, and in March 2007, NNLAMS officially passed a resolution to establish “National Latino Healthcare Day.” This day, celebrated on the Friday nearest to Cesar Chavez’s birthday on March 31, involved all NNLAMS chapters nationwide, participating in community service activities in solidarity with immigrant rights. The Midwest region continued to commemorate this day of action following each regional conference.

Between 2010 and 2020, the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) Midwest experienced a transformative journey. In 2010, the region embraced the adoption of the LMSA name, aligning with the national body, marking a significant shift toward unification. LMSA Midwest played a key role in co-hosting LMSA National’s inaugural standalone conference, fostering a sense of shared identity. The emphasis during this decade shifted towards promoting Latino physician involvement in academia, with research mentorship and Research Poster Presentations at regional conferences. Furthermore, a drive for better linguistic and cultural care within the Spanish-speaking population led to a pivotal study on medical Spanish curricula, highlighting the need for standardized testing.

This commitment to mentoring and advancing future physician faculty members was evident in the 2012 Midwest Regional Conference, which targeted high school students, aiming to inspire young minority individuals. LMSA Midwest’s mentorship efforts extended into policy and advocacy, notably supporting DACA recipients in medical school admissions. In addition, the organization advanced as a 501(c)(3) non-profit and provided funding for various initiatives and scholarships for medical students. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the region explored remote meetings to maintain engagement with LMSA chapters across the Midwest, underscoring its adaptability and commitment to its core principles.

LMSA Midwest: A Decade of Progress and Unity in Latino Medical Student Leadership

In 2010, the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) emerged as a symbol of unity amidst a growing need for a shared identity among regional and national programs. The transition from NNLAMS to LMSA reflected the Midwest region’s emphasis on establishing a unified national student body and allowed for seamless branding. The significance of this transformation was marked with the 2010 UIC Forum, where LMSA Midwest co-hosted the first standalone LMSA National conference, leading to the adoption of the name LMSA National. The event celebrated a shared identity and was separate from the LMSA Midwest regional conference.

Between 2010 and 2020, LMSA Midwest placed increasing importance on fostering Latino physician involvement in academia. This focus translated into mentorship, research collaboration, and the inclusion of Research Poster Presentations at regional conferences, allowing students to present scholarly work. An increased emphasis on scholarship was accompanied by a commitment to improving healthcare for Spanish-speaking populations. LMSA Midwest conducted a regional survey to establish a policy statement on the importance of language-concordant care, with a resulting publication that spotlighted the expanding state of medical Spanish curricula in U.S. medical schools.

The 22nd Midwest Regional Conference in 2012, titled “Academic Medicine: Educating Tomorrow’s Doctors,” took mentoring to high school students. Held at the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy in Chicago, this conference introduced young minority students to possibilities in medicine. The event incorporated workshops, career development sessions, and physical fitness activities. In 2012, LMSA Midwest also ventured into policy and advocacy as the U.S. Congress remained stagnant on immigration reform. President Obama’s announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program opened opportunities for undocumented students. Loyola Stritch School of Medicine became the first medical school to amend its admissions policy to welcome DACA students. This change, along with the help of organizations like Pre-Health Dreamers and LMSA, significantly increased the diversity of the student body.

Former LMSA Midwest leader Ivonne Beltran Lara’s journey epitomized dedication and perseverance. As an undocumented immigrant, she faced tuition challenges and numerous setbacks in her medical school application journey. Mentorship from organizations like LMSA helped her find her path to medical school, where she now advocates for the importance of mentorship in medical education.

In 2012, the growth of LMSA led to the formal recognition of LMSA Midwest as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization as led by LMSA leadership as Thalia Torres, MD. The organization’s executive board established a chapter development grant to support community and institutional projects. In 2014, regional leadership positions were refined, and the regional organization continued to collaborate closely with LMSA National.


Community service, advocacy, research, and mentorship have consistently been the driving forces behind LMSA Midwest’s commitment to reducing healthcare disparities. Beyond 2020, the region continued to provide funding, academic scholarships, and support for community-engaged projects, connecting with medical societies to further their mission. In the face of unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, LMSA Midwest adapted by exploring strategies to host regional meetings remotely and increase engagement with LMSA chapters across the Midwest, ensuring distance or travel costs did not hinder their mission to advance healthcare equity.

LMSA Midwest Members at LMSA National Conference - 2023
LMSA Midwest Regional Conference February 16-18, 2024! Click here to register now!