UM shares efforts to solve pressing issues in Latin America at Concordia

University of Miami President Julio Frenk, Dr. Donna Shalala and Dr Karoline Montensen speak at a Concordia Americas 2023 discussion on the future of healthcare.

Through research and education, the University of Miami’s mission is, in part, to actively prepare the next generation to combat globally impacting issues in Latin America. Professors, deans and other faculty members commonly challenge students to search for solutions in regard to Latin American healthcare, economy and environmental sustainability.

“We are a university that is very focused on studying and understanding the problems facing humanity, but also in devising solutions. Climate change has been an absolute priority.” Julio Frenk, president of UM, said.

Members of the UM academic community offered insight on various themes at the Concordia Americas Summit 2023, a regional summit focused on bringing world leaders together to confront the challenges and opportunities facing the Western Hemisphere. The event occurred March 9-10. Through panels and discussions, UM faculty spoke about the prominent role the university is playing in devising solutions for Latin America’s most pressing issues.

In a panel discussion, Dr. Erin Kobetz, the vice provost for research and scholarship at the Miller School of Medicine, and Dr. Sophia George, a research associate professor at the Miller School of Medicine, presented findings about the medical and cultural inequality that exists when addressing breast cancer among Latin American women.

The CDC named breast cancer as the second leading cause of cancer death among women overall and the leading cause of cancer death among Latin American women. Researchers and Doctors at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine are working to situate breast cancer, cervical cancer and healthcare equity within a broader health context.

“That requires changing those very fundamental aspects of how healthcare is delivered,” Dr. George said. “To enhance the possibility of actually healing these diseases that were historically thought of as a death sentence to women.”

In the panel, George and Kobetz discussed the cultural obstacles they face when approaching marginalized women with preventative care. They spoke about the stigma many women of this nature feel when asked to come in for a preventative test such as a pap smear. Many women fear risking their economic dependence on sexual partners.

“That’s what we’ve been challenged to do at the University of Miami, given the multicultural diversity of South Florida, Dr. Kobetz said, “Is to really identify novel strategies for cervical cancer prevention that invite participation of diverse women and allow them to engage in primary and secondary prevention in ways that are suitable and sustainable.”

President Julio Frenk moderated a panel discussion with Abigail Fleming, UM Law’s Mysun Foundation practitioner-in-residence, Dr. Antonio Nanni, professor and chair of UM’s department of civil and architectural engineering, Dr. Katherine Mach, a professor at UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science and Dr. Rudolphe el-Khoury, the dean of UM’s School of Architecture. Each panelist shared how their respective field was working with the university to combat climate change.

Along with sharing research and expertise, Frenk announced one of UM’s latest academic initiatives, the Climate Resilience Academy. The academy supports all UM schools and colleges through interdisciplinary, problem-driven research and education in partnership with industry, government, universities and other stakeholders.

“The academy is understood not as a physical structure, but actually a little bit like the spirit of Concordia, a convening entity that brings together all our intellectual assets.” Frenk said.

El-Khoury spoke about a course the academy developed on resilience that encourages problem-based learning and fosters collaboration and partnerships to solve issues.

The course was piloted in Fall 2022, and was offered again in Spring 2023. The goal is to equip students with adaptive cognitive tools and critical thinking skills to navigate the world with conviction and creativity.

President Frenk and Dr. Donna Shalala, a current trustee professor of political science and health policy at UM, closed the summit with a final discussion on the future of healthcare. The conversation was moderated by Dr. Karoline Mortensen, a health management and policy professor at UM’s Herbert Business School.

Frenk emphasized that the largest obstacle the healthcare system faces today is its workforce, naming an adequately educated workforce as the most important factor.

“Once people graduate they need to embark on a lifelong journey of learning.” Frenk said. “Education for life has that meaning of lifelong learning but it also has the meaning of being educated to lead a meaningful rewarding life as a member of a community.”

Many other members of the University of Miami community including law professionals and professors spoke at the summit, offering insight and expertise to a wide range of themes including sustainability, culture and public policy.