Latinas Who Lead
When Alisha Parada, MD, graduated from Las Cruces High School at 17, pregnant and single, her guidance counselor seemed uninterested in supporting her desire to enroll in college.
“She completely blew me off,” Parada says. “They bet against me. I was determined to do something: everybody said I couldn’t do it.”
Undaunted, Parada enrolled at New Mexico State University on her own, and later graduated from The University of New Mexico School of Medicine. She went on to serve as chief resident in Internal Medicine at UNM before joining the faculty in 2012.
Now, as chief of UNM’s Division of General Internal Medicine and medical director of the UNM Southwest Mesa Clinic, Parada has made it her mission to provide up-and-coming clinicians with the support she wished she had received.
“I’m very passionate about mentoring the next generation of medical professionals,” Parada says.
Parada, whose parents were from Albuquerque, grew up in Las Cruces while her father worked at the nearby White Sands Missile Range. “Since I was very young, I always wanted to be a doctor,” she says. “I was a first-generation college graduate. My parents were supportive and said, ‘You should go to college,’ but they didn’t know how to help me get there.”
Although she started out as a biochemistry major, she found a mentor when she took a job working in NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. He encouraged her to transfer there and she went on to graduate with a degree in agricultural sciences.
She worked for a year after graduating, then started medical school at UNM at the same time her son started kindergarten. “I had a connection to the medical school because they had done outreach at State,” she says.
Studying medicine while raising a young child as a single parent was challenging, but it was complicated by the fact that Parada was also caring for her beloved maternal grandmother, who was diagnosed with stomach and esophageal cancer and died at the beginning of her second year.
Parada is particularly proud of her work at the Southwest Mesa Clinic – one of UNM’s busiest – where many of her residents serve their clinical rotations. “It’s mostly an underserved population,” she says. “We are taking care of the sickest of the sick, with complications.”
Caring for the underserved is a special calling. “It really does take a different mindset to care for people who don’t have resources,” she says. I’ve always felt like I’m taking care of my family. They trust us more because of it.”
Parada, who previously served as vice chair for diversity, inclusion and equity in the Department of Internal Medicine, makes a point of sharing her story with medical students, residents and faculty colleagues.
“In medical school there were not a lot of mentors and faculty I could identify with – there were not a lot of minority women,” she says, adding that Valerie Romero-Leggott, MD, now Health Sciences vice chancellor for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, and Loretta Cordova de Ortega, chair of the Department of Pediatrics, were people who inspired her.
“Fortunately, I'm in the same position they were, where people are looking at me and saying, 'I can do that,'” Parada says.
Parada is grateful for the support she has received from department chair Mark Unruh, MD. “Culture change takes a really, really long time,” she says. “There’s a lot of great initiatives to help support people, especially minority women, and we really could do more.”
She says she is in it for the long haul. “Being able to be an educator and a mentor – that’s how we’re going to affect the community in New Mexico.”