Growing up in the U.S. with parents from Bolivia and no other relatives nearby, Marco-Jose Rivero learned to value his tight-knit nuclear family. When he began to develop an interest in men’s health, he opted to pursue urology partly to help men with infertility issues to start families of their own.
Rivero is one of three recipients conducting urology research this year at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, through a scholarship program for underrepresented students including minorities and women. The Miami Andrology Research Scholar (MARS) program began last year with one recipient.
“Helping young men achieve their goal of starting a family is one of the many exciting challenges of this field,” said Rivero, 25, a student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. What’s more, doing research in Miami brings him closer to his parents, who recently moved to South Florida. "Being close to my own family and working with Dr. Ramasamy, a leading expert in men's health, makes me so excited to be a part of the MARS program."
Leading the program and personally mentoring the MARS recipients is Ranjith Ramasamy, M.D., associate professor of clinical urology in the Miller School’s Department of Urology and a specialist in the treatment of disorders of male infertility and sexual dysfunction at the Desai Sethi Urology Institute at UHealth. Dr. Ramasamy is passionate about bringing diversity to urology, so that patients from underrepresented groups can feel comfortable opening up about sensitive, personal concerns with medical specialists who come from similar backgrounds.
“Unless there’s a provider that a patient can relate with — a female to female, an African American to African American — I think it’s very challenging for providers to relate to their patients who discuss sensitive problems,” said Dr. Ramasamy, who is also director of the reproductive urology fellowship program at the Miller School. Urological problems that women and minority patients have are often dismissed or not discussed with their doctors, he said.
Bringing Diversity to the Field
MARS recipient Farah Rahman said that she is personally intent on bringing more women into urology, a field long dominated by men and focused on men’s health. The daughter of two physicians from India, she is inspired by her parents’ sacrifices to pursue the American Dream and seek greater goals.
“The more diversity you have in your medical school classes, the more opportunities people of diverse backgrounds will have to explore new fields,” said Rahman, 27, a student at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine who holds a master’s degree in public health from Yale University.
For MARS recipient Katherine Campbell, the journey to research in Miami began with her own health challenges. Born with a cleft lip and palate, she spent much of her childhood in hospitals, undergoing surgeries.
“I knew that I wanted to work with my hands and have a direct impact on people’s lives, and it’s rare to find a surgeon who’s been through the experience of also being a patient,” said Campbell, 26, a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. She is keen on urology partly because it will allow her to develop long-term relationships with patients.
Campbell said she applied to the MARS program because of Dr. Ramasamy’s “fantastic reputation,” built on the breadth and depth of research and his work with scores of students worldwide. South Florida also offers Campbell the chance to practice Spanish, which she studied in college.
Funding for the scholarship comes from the Ricardo Puente Family Foundation, which supports medical research and education in South Florida.