Policy and practice

Robert Sanchez works toward health care equality, from the Senate floor to the hospital floor.

Medical student Robert Sanchez knew he wanted to be a physician early on, taking pre-med classes his freshman year at Yale. Then a retired surgeon advised him to follow the scenic route. Before enrolling at Pritzker in 2011, Sanchez spent three years working, first as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute public policy fellow, then as a health policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.

Service family

I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, the youngest of three. My mom was a high school physical education and Spanish teacher, and my dad was in the Air Force, retired but still working on the base as a civil servant. For high school I received a scholarship to Texas Military Institute. It wasn’t necessarily a military school but I did participate in the JROTC program.

Mr. Sanchez goes to Washington

I was interested in exploring health care disparities that are based on a wide array of circumstances. I got some advice that it might be beneficial to take time between college and medical school, so I found a great opportunity with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute that sent me to DC at an exciting time when health care reform was being readily discussed.

First impressions

I was intrigued that UChicago had a stand-alone health disparities course. That was impressive because I remember going to a medical school fair, and Pritzker was the only school that really talked openly about disparities and promoted a focus on it.

Empowering the community

All students participate in the Scholarship and Discovery program, and I’m working with Dr. Monica Peek, assistant professor of general internal medicine. Her South Side Diabetes Empowerment Program partners with clinics on the South Side and conducts classes to help patients take control over their diabetes. When I got involved, they had done a lot of great work in the African American community and they were starting to work with the Latino community. I’ve helped oversee interviews and focus groups, and it’s allowing us to get a sense of what the patients value in their medical interactions, and then we can prepare a series of classes, both for patients and their providers.

Beyond the clinic

As medical professionals we want to care for the patients, and that’s always been my top priority. Now that I’m more involved, what I’d most like to do is change the larger health care system for the better. I’ve tried to focus on issues of health disparities, but I’ve also been involved with the medical school and the community in some admissions work, trying to create an environment that’s inclusive, diverse, and supportive of students of all kinds.

A freer choice

UChicago has outstanding numbers for financial aid and cost, and we all recognize that strong support. A large part of our tuition is covered by federal loans. I also receive scholarship support, including funds for children of military parents.

When choosing a career path in medicine, there are lucrative specialties that draw students who have large amounts of debt. For me, financial aid has offered the benefit of not having debt on the forefront of my mind, influencing my choice. I haven’t made a final decision yet, but I’m leaning toward internal medicine or pediatrics, with a goal of providing high quality medical care for communities in need.