Latinas Who Lead
Felisha Rohan-Minjares was still in high school when her beloved grandfather suffered a heart attack. It was a traumatic yet transformational experience that set her on the path to becoming a physician.
“Seeing him getting better and people taking care of him, and recognizing that I liked science and I liked people – the two things came together very nicely,” she says.
Today, she cares for patients of her own as an associate professor in The University of New Mexico Department of Family & Community Medicine and serves as assistant dean for undergraduate medical education in the UNM School of Medicine.
In those dual roles, she is dedicated to providing medical care to underserved patients and helping to train students to practice culturally sensitive medicine.
Rohan-Minjares grew up in Gallup, a railroad town in western New Mexico bordering on the Navajo Nation. Her mother’s family had lived there for several generations, while her father came to the area as a teenager from the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
She was the valedictorian of her graduating class at Gallup High School in 1996 (she recalls leading her classmates in dancing the Macarena during her valedictory speech). She decided to go to Notre Dame University for her undergraduate studies.
“My parents weren’t ready for me to leave and go to the deep snow of the Midwest,” she recalls. “My mom cried the whole drive back from South Bend. I was the oldest of the family and definitely the first person to leave and go that far.”
At Notre Dame, Rohan-Minjares majored in both premed and government. “I always had an interest in health and health equity and access to care,” she says. She also made lifelong friends and met the man who would become her husband, El Paso native Amador Minjares. They have two children together.
Medical school at Stanford University came next. “It was easy to choose Stanford after four years in the Midwest snow,” she says. During her clinical rotations she was struck by the cultural diversity of the Bay Area, which deepened her interest in practicing cross-cultural medicine.
Rohan-Minjares returned to New Mexico for her family medicine residency at UNM. “I know that I came back because my grandfather was praying for me every day to return,” she says.
Her interest in medical education grew out of her residency experience. “I really enjoyed teaching other residents on my service,” she says. “That’s when I started thinking about wanting to be on the faculty.”
After completing residency, Rohan-Minjares worked in UNM’s Southeast Heights Clinic and took call at UNM Hospital providing care for underserved women. Meanwhile, Valerie Romero-Leggott, MD, Vice Chancellor for Diversity, recruited her to develop a culturally effective care curriculum for medical students.
Rohan-Minjares was appointed assistant dean for undergraduate education in July 2018 and has also taken on a role in the School of Medicine’s new Learning Environments Office.
“It encapsulates my interest in diversity and my interest in education,” she says. “Meeting our students where they are and creating a learning environment that allows them to thrive is a nice merging of these two areas that I see as having been key drivers of my career.”
Despite her new administrative roles, Rohan-Minjares continues to see patients in clinic.
“What I really love is having one-on-one relationships with patients,” she says. “That’s what drives my service in terms of being a physician – really thinking about the humanism that is involved in being a doctor.
“I have the privilege of being closely connected to patients and the information that they entrust in me.”