By Michael Haederle

Passion for Diversity

Valerie Romero-Leggott Honored for Her Service

This has been a banner year for Valerie Romero-Leggott, MD, Vice Chancellor for Diversity at The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.

In February she was named one of 20 Women of Influence by Albuquerque Business First. And earlier this month, she received a special Valor and Excellence Award in Education from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

These latest awards add to a long list of accolades Romero-Leggott has received for her work in promoting educational diversity in New Mexico's health care workforce. In 2010 she received the Chavez y Chavez Award from the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, and in 2012 she won the Hispanic Health Leadership Award from the National Hispanic Medical Association.

Romero-Leggott says she appreciates the recent honor from LULAC. "It was really an honor to be recognized, because of who LULAC is and who they represent," she said.

Romero-Leggott, who is also a professor in UNM's Department of Family & Community Medicine, has been at the forefront of diversity efforts at the Health Sciences Center for more than a decade. She heads the Office for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, which administers federally funded pipeline programs aimed at increasing the diversity of New Mexico's health care workforce.

Romero-Leggott's ongoing efforts to make health care more inclusive exemplify the university's ongoing commitment to promoting greater diversity, said UNM President Garnett S. Stokes.

"The diversity of people, cultures and ideas is what makes UNM the University for New Mexico," Stokes said. "We are committed to creating a culture and climate that allows us to connect with one another and build a sense of community and mentorship."

Paul B. Roth, MD, MS, UNM's Chancellor for Health Sciences, credits Romero-Leggott with changing the climate at the Health Sciences Center by helping to encourage native New Mexicans from diverse backgrounds to consider careers in health care.

"Dr. Romero-Leggott has been the keystone in our efforts to diversify the applicant pool for our educational programs," Roth said. "We know that a more diverse physician and provider workforce will yield better health outcomes for our patients, so she deserves credit for making a significant contribution toward improving the health status of all New Mexicans."

A Santa Fe native, Romero-Leggott graduated from Harvard with a BA in psychology in 1982. She worked for several years in a group home in Santa Fe for abused and neglected teenaged girls before enrolling in the UNM School of Medicine. She graduated in 1992 and completed her family medicine residency in 1996.

Romero-Leggott spent a few years in private practice before joining the UNM faculty in 2001. She helped launch UNM's Combined BA/MD Degree Program in 2005 and became the inaugural vice chancellor for diversity in 2008.

As the Health Sciences Center's chief diversity officer, Romero-Leggott oversees efforts to engage with middle- and high school students from diverse backgrounds and regions of the state to encourage them to consider health professions careers.

She has also taught cultural competence to students, residents and faculty in the School of Medicine and other health professions in order to better address health disparities.

In addition her work at the university, Romero-Leggott is active in the community. She is the immediate past president of the Santa Fe-based Con Alma Health Foundation, which distributes grants and conducts research to promote community health. She has also served on the boards of New Mexico First, the Southwest Women's Law Center and the Albuquerque Academy.

"I'm here to open doors for other people and keep them open," Romero-Leggott said. "We have to do that for each other. How do we ever get better and bring along those incredible young people that are out there if we don't do that?"

Categories: Community Engagement, Education, School of Medicine, Top Stories