Friday, May 23, 2014

Dedicated to diversity


Sunlight slips through Ernesto González’s office on the sixth floor of Bartlett Hall, which houses the MGH Department of Dermatology administration. Listening to the humble MGH dermatologist speak, it is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of his work and the transformation he ignited within the hospital throughout the last three decades.

“Everything I have attained is meaningful to me, but I don’t know that it is to other people,” says González. “I never considered myself a superstar or someone special or different. I never really thought that way.”

González, who is revered not only for his clinical work but also for his impact on diversity at the MGH, was recently honored as one of nine Puerto Rican leaders inducted into the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, The City University of New York. González’ s history and achievements will be archived in the Center as one of 100 Puerto Ricans who has shaped the history and influenced the social conditions of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. – one of many accolades González has received throughout his illustrious career.

To understand how González got here, it is necessary to go back to where it all began.

González’s story has a humble beginning. Born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, he was raised by his mother, a single parent who worked as a maid to support her two children, and whom he credits with much of his success. “All that my mother hoped – because we were so poor – was for us to get out of the slums. She was always inspiring my brother and me to get out of the socioeconomic background in which we were raised,” he says.

And González did just that. Earning his medical degree from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine in 1966, he was invited to the MGH for his last year of residency by the then-Chief of Dermatology Thomas Fitzpatrick, MD, PhD, who met González while performing research in Puerto Rico.

“I have been blessed by serendipitous situations that I never expected,” says González.

His early years laid the foundation for his career as a faculty member at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and as the first director of the Phototherapy Unit at the MGH. Eventually he became chief of Dermatology Ambulatory Services, a position he held for 10 years.

As a Puerto Rican, González says he was often challenged as he navigated his way through the world of a predominately white institution, but he gleaned important insights from his experiences and in time discovered his true calling. “I wanted to dedicate my career to bringing minority groups into the mainstream.”

In 1995, eight individuals, including González, were selected to serve on a newly formed diversity committee at the MGH. “Eventually the hospital dedicated finances to support pro-diversity activities,” says González. “It is amazing how fast it developed, but one thing I’ve learned is that whenever the MGH is committed to something, they do it better than anyone else.”

González’s awards and successes are many – founder and director of the Hispanic Medical Students Mentorship Program for four Massachusetts medical schools; founding member of the MGH Diversity Committee, the Minority Recruitment Committee and Community Benefit Advisory Committee; and recipient of the HMS Harold Amos Faculty Diversity Award. González even has an award named in his honor – the Ernesto González Award for Outstanding Service to the Latino Community.

“I consider myself a pioneer,” says González. “I could have ended up in a different location. I could have stayed in Puerto Rico. But what attracted me here was the challenge of doing something new, community service and defending diversity.”

Read more articles from the 05/23/14 Hotline issue.


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