Monica Villarruel

Monica Villarruel is concerned about the unmet health needs of Latina mothers.

Seeing her own mother struggle with gestational diabetes while pregnant with her little brother fueled her interest in birth and health outcome disparities among Latinas. She learned how language and other barriers can hurt patient-provider relationships.

Villarruel, who recently earned her master’s degree in public health at Washington University in St. Louis, is already on the right path to make a difference.   

Villarruel has spent nearly a decade in program implementation and evaluation, especially in community-based participatory research involving Latinos.

She has worked as a research and program assistant for university- and community-based nonprofits in both Los Angeles and St. Louis. Her research interests include mental health, maternal and child health, and racial and ethnic health disparities.

To further her experience and education, Villarruel applied for the Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program.

The Éxito! program, led by Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez at UT Health San Antonio with support from the National Cancer Institute, recruits 25 master’s-level students and professionals each year for a five-day summer institute, optional internships, and ongoing networking and support to promote doctoral degrees and careers in Latino cancer. A recent study found significant increases in summer institute participants’ confidence to apply to a doctoral program and academic self-efficacy.

“[Éxito!] has made me feel more confident in applying to a doctoral program when that time comes in a few years,” Villarruel said. “It has given me hope and a sense of relief from feelings of anxiety. It has also helped me connect with other young researchers who I hope to collaborate and rely on in the future.”

For those considering applying for Éxito! next year, Villarruel has this advice:

“You have a lot of wonderful things to look forward to!”