Maria Portela Martinez, MD
MPH student, formerly health care management and policy concentration
As an undergraduate in Arizona, Maria, as part of the Migrant Health Education Program, led an outreach program providing free mammography health services to individuals in both rural and urban medically underserved areas. After graduation, she worked under Johanna DiStefano leading the Healthy Avondale Partnership as part of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in the first implementation of Arizona’s Chronic Disease Plan: An Integrated Model for Promoting Healthy Communities. Through this initiative, the Partnership offered health education, fitness classes, and outreach services to a community whose members were disproportionately poor, uninsured, and at high risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Maria returned to her native Puerto Rico for medical school, where she approached the school’s president at the time, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Joxel García, about sharing his expertise with students interested in health policy. This association led Maria to create a public policy rotation at her medical school, to found the first student-run Health Policy Interest Group in Puerto Rico, and to co-draft a document with Dr. García and others assessing the health and education sectors for President Barack Obama’s Taskforce on Puerto Rico’s Economic Development. This exercise, among many efforts, contributed to an increase of more than $5 billion in Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico.
Maria completed an innovative residency at Duke University in family and community medicine that integrated public health, leadership, and advocacy. She then applied to the Mongan Commonwealth Fund Fellowship Program in Minority Health Policy at Harvard, which provides young physicians with leadership training and health policy experience while allowing them to pursue an MPH at HSPH. Well on the way to achieving her goal of becoming a nontraditional physician who serves the most vulnerable communities, Maria is exploring opportunities that involve a balance of policy and clinical care.