careers in stem
Overcoming All Challenges, Latinas Changing the Health Care Industry
By Karina Flores-Hurley
Considering that Latinos are expected to represent 60 percent of the total population by 2050, the absence of Latinos in key medical positions is critical. The reality is that there are not enough physicians, researchers, pharmaceutical professionals, scientists, nurses and other health professionals capable of serving the needs of the community and tending to the challenges that affect specifically Latinos.
The women you’ll meet here have brought down those barriers, overcoming not only professional challenges but also personal ones. They’ve come from different countries and have pursued different careers in the Health and Science fields. But they also have something in common: they are making a difference. And if they can do it, more Latinas can do it, too.
Born in Cordoba, Argentina, Yudith Garcia always knew she wanted to be a scientist. So, upon receiving her B.A. in Industrial Chemical Engineering from Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, she came to the United States at the age of 25 seeking opportunities to further her education.
“You really don’t plan these things,” says Garcia, who came to visit some friends, and ended up applying for a scholarship. She got it, and obtained a B.S. in Chemistry from Brigham Young University, before moving onto a master’s degree in Organic Synthesis from the University of Utah.
“It was really difficult at the beginning,” recalls Garcia, who admitted feeling lonely and afraid her English skills were less than perfect. “I called my home once in tears and my sister told me: ‘Remember? This is what you always wanted!’”
Currently a team member of Exploratory Chemistry at Merck Research Laboratories in Boston, Massachusetts, Garcia has been involved in the design and optimization of many drugs produced by the company and has been part of chemistry projects to develop therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, oncology and respiratory and inflammatory diseases. Some of her collaborative work has been patented.
As part of her lab work, Garcia focuses in the discovery of novel compounds, currently working on a molecule that has the potential to become a drug. All in all her focus is to support the discovery of novel compounds utilizing her experience and expertise in Medicinal Chemistry to support Merck’s mission.
Sometimes, she says, her family has trouble understanding exactly what she does on those long hours in the lab. But when she mentions diseases such as ‘Alzheimer’ and ‘Cancer’, it helps them understand the significance and impact that her job has to society.
Besides being passionate about her job, which she refers to as “the creative side of chemistry,” Garcia also participates in the Merck Hispanos Organization (MHO) and the Merck Women’s Network, among other groups.
“Groups such as the Merck Hispanos Organization and Merck Women Network opened my mind,” says Garcia. “Meeting other people and knowing that we can support each other made a big difference for me.”
Support is the key for her success, and in her case family and academic resources played a big role. “If it wasn’t for my scholarship, I wouldn’t be here,” says Garcia. “Don’t let money stop you from where you want to be.”
Her advice to the future generations of scientists: “Keep trying, because when you’re failing, you’re learning.”
Maureen J. Sanchez
Plant Manager, Kenilworth NJ
Maureen J. Sanchez does not hesitate when asked for advice on how to balance work and home responsibilities —the latter, which includes raising two teenagers, can’t be easy. What is impressive, though, is that she manages to do that while supervising the work of 500 people as the Plant manager of Merck Pharmaceuticals in Kenilworth, New Jersey.
“[My job] is very fulfilling,” says Sanchez whom has a bachelor degree in Industrial Engineer and a master’s of Science in Manufacturing Engineering. “There are so many people that you’re surrounded by so many different backgrounds.”
A native of Rincon, Puerto Rico, Sanchez also had to go through the learning processes and challenges that come as a result to relocating to the United States.
“The first challenge for me was to work in a New Jersey facility with a Spanish background,” says Sanchez. However, she says her cultural background has played a role in developing managing skills. “I’m very people oriented. We have the charisma to get to people.”
Sanchez opted for a career in industrial engineering because she liked science, but was also looking for a problem-solving field. Industrial Engineering had the best of worlds. Among her roles Sanchez has been Sr. director – Strategy Execution and Delivery Outcomes – MMD Strategy office; SAP Readiness leader – MMD US Implementation; MMD – Intent architect – MMD Strategy Office – special assignment – US; director of Contract Operations – PR Operations, MMD, director of Pharmaceutical Planning and Logistics – PR Operations, MMD and today as Plant Manager.
“There were a lot of sacrifices,” recalls Sanchez. “I had a lot of mentors and I worked really hard.” Sanchez also attributes her professional success to the passion that she puts in all her endeavors, alongside the help of her mentors. Because she understands the importance of mentorship, she has become one herself.
“If I don’t enjoy what I’m doing, then I need to do something else,” says Sanchez. “It is important to be passionate on what you do and strive for continuous learning and development.”
Sanchez encourages all Latinas who have the opportunity to study and be self-sufficient to do so, and to learn from their mistakes along the way.
Patricia M. Reyes
Change Lead in the
Division Strategy Execution Office
A Change Lead in the Merck Manufacturing Division Strategy Execution Office where she is a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma and a Certified Change Agent, Patricia M. Reyes supports Corporate Strategic Initiatives in her current role as a Change expert in Change Execution Methodology.
Reyes is also the Chief of Staff of the Merck Hispanic/Latino Business Insight Roundtable where she dedicates half of her time at the company working towards ensuring a diverse workforce. She has been involved in this mission ever since she joined Merck in 2007, and became the Co-President of the Merck Hispanos Organization (MHO), which currently has 750 members nationwide. These initiatives, funded by the organization, not only provide leadership training and mentorship opportunities for its members, but they also do philanthropic work in partnership with other Hispanic advocacy groups in the country.
Reyes was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and moved to New York with her family at the age of four. Her father died young, and hence her mother played an instrumental role in her education, always emphasizing the importance of bilingualism.
“My mother and father made sure that my sister and I were 100 percent bilingual”. One of her mother’s strategies, Reyes says, was to sit her down and read with her New York’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, El Diario La Prensa.
Reyes says the discovery of her career was an evolving journey. “I always loved science, although I never really got into the sciences,” recalls Reyes. “I started my career in pre-med, but changed to business management.”
Reyes went on to obtain an MBA from Wagner College of Staten Island, where she is also an Adjunct Professor on diversity in the workforce and other courses; and is currently a doctoral candidate in Leadership and Organizational Change at Walden University.
She has several awards to her credit; such as Masters Recognition at MCI. Sales Achievers Club, 2009 Merck Sigma Award for the Best Methodology and 2011-2012 NAPW, Professional Women of the Year.
Reyes says her passion drives her to where she wants to go, but she has had the help of others along the way. “The role model came into play there and my role models were definitively my parents,” says Reyes.
Like her mother, she serves as a role model for her three professional daughters (one of them with a career in medicine). “One thing I would tell Latinas is to strive for the stars,” says Reyes. “With my mother, if there was a problem, it became an opportunity.”.