La Feria News

Valley Native And UTRGV Medical Student Earns National Health Recognition

UTRGV School of Medicine student Briana Gonzalez DiGrazia was nationally recognized by the U.S. Public Health Service with the Excellence in Public Health Award. The award recognizes visionary medical students who are advancing initiatives to improve public health and addressing public health issues in their community. Dr. Stanley Fisch, professor of Pediatrics at the UTRGV School of Medicine, recently presented Gonzalez DiGrazia with the honor at the SGA (Student Government Association) Student and Faculty Appreciation Ceremony. (UTRGV Photo by Heriberto Perez-Zuniga)

By Heriberto Perez-Zuniga

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – APRIL 2, 2024 – Briana Gonzalez DiGrazia knew she wanted to be in medicine from a young age. Looking back, she fondly remembers dinner conversations with her parents about their experiences in healthcare.

“My mom worked as a nurse, and my dad was a respiratory therapist, so the best part of dinner was listening to them talk about their day,” said Gonzalez DiGrazia. “I saw how hard they worked to care for their patients, but I also saw how rewarding their job was.”

Now in her second year as a UTRGV School of Medicine student, Gonzalez DiGrazia has received recognition for her exemplary dedication to healthcare.

She earned the prestigious U.S. Public Health Service 2024 Excellence in Public Health Award, recognizing medical students who demonstrate leadership in advancing initiatives to enhance public health and address prevalent health issues within their communities.

The award is a national recognition given to medical students who have shown a commitment to public health and equity during their studies.

Growing up in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley, where a large portion of the population is affected by diabetes and hypertension, Gonzalez DiGrazia saw firsthand just how a person’s environment can affect their health.

In the Valley, where a large portion of those affected remain uninsured, healthcare access and treatment options remain out of reach for many.

Determined to impact her community, Gonzalez DiGrazia worked to understand and bring solutions to these issues.

“I developed a research and interdisciplinary educational initiative with the Texas Medical Association and the Area Health Education (AHEC) Scholars Program,” she said. “We worked to provide uninsured patients with hypertension with a free blood pressure cuff and education in the hopes of preventing future cardiovascular events like strokes.”

These efforts were a personal mission for Gonzalez DiGrazia, whose family struggled with limited access to healthcare.

“My grandfather passed away suddenly from a stroke in his 40s, and at the time, my mom lived in a rural part of Mexico where the nearest hospital was hours away,” she said. “My father and his family also worked in the fields as migrant workers after immigrating to the US, so going to the doctor wasn’t always an option.”

Being a Valley native and her family background profoundly influenced her medical journey.
Those factors gave her an understanding of the healthcare challenges faced by many in the region, fueling her determination to effect positive change in healthcare access in South Texas.

“We need to ensure our patients have access to primary care services so they can be aware of any health conditions and work with their providers to monitor these before it becomes an emergency,” said Gonzalez DiGrazia. “This is something that the UTRGV School of Medicine has done through the AHEC clinics, and I’m grateful to be a part of that, even as a student.”

Dr. Maurice Clifton, senior associate dean of Student Affairs and Admissions at the UTRGV School of Medicine, said Gonzalez DiGrazia is a prime example of the future healthcare leaders being produced at the academic medical institution.

“Briana exemplifies the values of compassion, dedication, and excellence that we strive to instill in our students,” he said. “Her commitment to addressing healthcare issues in our community is commendable, and we are immensely proud of her.”

Gonzalez DiGrazia said she’s proud to have received such a prestigious award and is grateful for the experience and support from the UTRGV School of Medicine.
“There was a time when I didn’t think I would be able to attend medical school, especially since it’s so competitive and was far from home,” she said.

Despite this, she encourages other Valley students to pursue a medical career and utilize the resources now found at “home” through the UTRGV School of Medicine.

“I know how difficult the path to becoming a physician is, but I encourage other students from the Valley to stay persistent and keep working hard,” she said. “Our patients need more physicians who understand them and can meet the specific needs of the Valley.”

In conjunction with the Texas Medical Association and Area Health Education (AHEC) Scholars Program, Briana Gonzalez DiGrazia, UTRGV School of Medicine student, developed a research and education initiative to spread hypertension and cardiovascular disease awareness within the community. Through the program, uninsured patients received a free blood pressure cuff and education in the hopes of preventing future cardiovascular events like strokes. (UTRGV Photo)
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