Gabriela Funez-dePaginer holding the Dr. Emilio Carrillo Award for Excellence in Research.

Gabriela Funez-dePagnier, Jacobs School Class of '26, won the Dr. Emilio Carrillo Award for Excellence in Research at the Northeast conference of the national Latino Medical Student Association.

LMSA’s Buffalo Chapter Brings Pride — and First-Place Award — Home From Conference

By Alexandra Saccone
Undergraduate English major

Published April 16, 2024

“We want to leverage that platform to address not only the needs of our Latinx community, but also to highlight all the work we are doing to bridge those gaps in health care. ”
Maria Wilson, Inclusive excellence workforce specialist
Office of Inclusion and Cultural Enhancement, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Several UB medical students recently presented research at the Northeast conference of the national Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA). And in what was the first research presentations at the national conference by UB students, one student also brought home another “first”: a first-place prize in the poster competition.

The Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences’ chapter of LMSA was founded four years ago, and students have attended the Northeast conference every year. But this was the first year that UB students presented their research, which is focused on underserved communities in Buffalo, to other conference attendees.

And in addition to bringing home a first-place award, the chapter also brought home the opportunity to host the Northeast conference in 2026.

“I think the passion and dedication of the LMSA Buffalo chapter’s 2024 officers have been paramount for the chapter to be considered for, and awarded, the host of the conference in 2026,” says Maria Wilson, inclusive excellence workforce specialist in the Jacobs School’s Office of Inclusion and Cultural Enhancement. “We are happy to know we can count on the support of the Dean’s Office, which says a lot about the commitment of the school to highlight the voices of Latinx communities.”

The LMSA Buffalo chapter officially gained recognition in January 2021, but support for a Latinx group began two years earlier when Michelle Galindez, an MD candidate in the Jacobs School Class of 2024, met co-founder Sofi Espinosa, MD ‘23, who was serving as an orientation leader. The two students discussed community and finding belonging as Latinx students at UB. And the rest is history.

Spanish-Language Curriculum Huge Success

Trying to start a new club during the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be difficult, but LMSA rose to the challenge.

“We put on events to provide care for single women and children during COVID, and were able to partner with a local elementary school to host fairs to encourage underrepresented minority students to pursue careers in health and science,” Galindez says.

“For UB students, especially during the pandemic, LMSA provided another home,” Galindez adds. “Some of our students are from as far away as Florida and California, and LMSA has helped make Jacobs feel like another home for them, helping form friendships across different class years.”

But LMSA’s greatest success may be the student-run, Spanish-language medical curriculum that is offered as an elective to students in the Jacobs School.

“We provided a means for all students, regardless of background, to learn medical Spanish to improve the care of patients in Buffalo,” Galindez says. “We were very happy to see the overwhelming enthusiasm and attendance amongst the student body, committed to improving communication and care for our patients in the Buffalo community.”

The project was one of several presented at the LMSA Northeast conference this year, showing the judges and the greater community the benefits of providing medical care in Spanish in marginalized communities in Buffalo.

Called “Unidos por la Salud: A Pathway to Improving Latino Health in Buffalo,” the study was funded by the Jacobs School and led by students Fernando Bomfim and Maria Urbina Castillo, who are both in the Class of 2026. Over the past three years, the project has aimed to fill a gap in the curriculum at the Jacobs School, where LMSA found Spanish to be missing.

“Currently, there is no formal, spoken, medical Spanish elective in the curriculum, but we are working with the Office of Medical Curriculum and the Romance language department at UB to bring more formal, Spanish-language education to the curriculum,” notes Judith Alvarez, president of LMSA’s Buffalo chapter. 

Poster on Impact of Doula Services Honored

While many Jacobs School medical students presented their projects at the Northeast conference, Gabriela Funez-dePagnier, Class of 2026, caught the attention of judges, winning first place and the Dr. J. Emilio Carrillo Award for Excellence in Research for her project, “Maternal and Neonatal Health Outcomes of an Integrated Obstetric Care Model in a Multicultural, Underserved Population.”

Her research focused on the benefits of supportive care, such as that provided by Jericho Road’s Priscilla Project, on the health outcomes of isolated and at-risk mothers from vulnerable populations in Buffalo.

Specifically, the poster focused on the impact of the doula services provided through the Priscilla Project, which Funez-dePaginer began to research in June 2023 through the UB Family Medicine Summer Assistantship program working under Jericho Road’s chief medical officer Allana Krolikowski, MD.

Funez-dePaginer’s work and “Unidos por la Salud” are just a few of the community-based projects coming from the Jacobs School that aim to change the face of health care in a diversifying Buffalo population. In 2026, the LMSA Buffalo chapter hopes to highlight these efforts to encourage other chapters to follow suit.

“To be the host of LMSA NE Conference ‘26 puts all eyes on Buffalo, New York, and all eyes on the Jacobs School,” Wilson says. “We want to leverage that platform to address not only the needs of our Latinx community, but also to highlight all the work we are doing to bridge those gaps in health care.”