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Alonzo Atencio, PhD

Alonzo Atencio, PhD

Biochemistry, Physiology

1929-2010

Dr. Atencio, obtained a doctorate in biochemistry at University of Colorado, Boulder, and completed postdoctoral work at Northwestern University. He joined the SOM Department of Biochemistry in 1970. Though his research interest was in the role of factor XIII in fibrinogen synthesis, Dr. Atencio’s true passion was medical education. He soon was appointed Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and Director of Minority Programs. In 1971, Atencio was awarded a grant from the Macy Foundation to recruit high school students to medical school.  He spoke to every high school principal in the state, and got lists of students who were potential college students.  He focused not just on medical school recruitment, but college recruitment. After helping the students get scholarships to go to college, he continued to mentor them to apply to medical school.  He established motivational workshops designed to interest college freshmen toward careers in medicine.  His efforts to increase the number of native New Mexicans applying to medical school, were relentless. With funding from the Hispanic Centers of Excellence in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, he initiated basic science courses prior to medical school, to prepare incoming minority medical students. In addition to recruitment efforts, Dr. Atencio initiated review courses for the National Board examination, as well as the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).  In his tenure at UNM-SOM, he created a national model for retention of students. He ultimately became known as the "Godfather of minority medical education."


Remembrances

I first met Alonzo "Al" Atencio in the late 1970s when I was a Minority Biological Sciences (MBS) student at UNM working with Dr. Donald Priola in the Physiology Department. After graduation I had the opportunity to work with Al for a year, and he became a great partner and leader for many initiatives that we undertook to advance minority students with significant potential to contribute in careers in medicine and other areas of the health sciences. Al was one of the earliest visionaries who recognized that across New Mexico and other states there was an untapped pool of talent that would not able to advance through what were in those times barriers for minority students. He took on the political aspects, as well as the educational agenda to identify the funds to support these efforts but was also a passionate and involved facilitator and leader of numerous programs that had a lifelong impact on students and on the profession as a whole. For me, he became an inspiration, and his spirit helped drive my journey that has included several degrees, including a doctoral degree from Harvard University.


— Dr. Howard D. Sanchez
I first knew Dr. Atencio when I was undergraduate in about 1985. I later knew him in medical school and afterward. I valued the rapport I had with him and he always seemed to believe in me even when I didn't. I have since left medicine and am studying to be a hospice chaplain. Maybe it is fitting that I have known people who have later traveled to the next life. I know that Dr. Atencio is somewhere beautiful.
— Tom Kellner

Dr. Dora Wang, in The Daily Practice of Compassionwrote: “Bob Loftfield recalls that he had gone to Northwestern University to give lectures.  Upon his return, Dean Stone asked him about what he’d accomplished. One of his accomplishments, Loftfield replied, was that he had met a young student named Alonzo Atencio, from Ortiz, New Mexico, near the Colorado border.  The son of a rancher, Atencio grew up expecting—to run a ranch.  He didn’t expect to attend college.  In fact, he dropped out of high school, after a plowing accident.  At age 17, he joined the Marines.  His intelligence was noted by his superiors, who insisted to him that it would be a waste for him to not attend college.  Back from his deployment in Korea, he attended the University of Colorado.  He also waited tables.  Students were hard on him, he became discouraged and took the civil service exam for a government job.  He was at the top of the list, when a position at the post office became available. It was a lifelong job. The next person on the list was a woman.  When her husband was killed in an accident, Atencio graciously withdrew his place on the list, so that the newly widowed woman would have a job. “It was enough to make you cry,” Loftfield recalled.”

I first met Alonzo "Al" Atencio in the late 1970s when I was a Minority Biological Sciences (MBS) student at UNM working with Dr. Donald Priola in the Physiology Department. After graduation I had the opportunity to work with Al for a year, and he became a great partner and leader for many initiatives that we undertook to advance minority students with significant potential to contribute in careers in medicine and other areas of the health sciences. Al was one of the earliest visionaries who recognized that across New Mexico and other states there was an untapped pool of talent that would not able to advance through what were in those times barriers for minority students. He took on the political aspects, as well as the educational agenda to identify the funds to support these efforts but was also a passionate and involved facilitator and leader of numerous programs that had a lifelong impact on students and on the profession as a whole. For me, he became an inspiration, and his spirit helped drive my journey that has included several degrees, including a doctoral degree from Harvard University.”


— Dr. Howard D. Sanchez

Dr. Valerie Romero-Leggott the first Vice Chancellor for Diversity at the UNM Health Sciences Center recalls: “I never thought at all about applying for medical school—until Alonzo Atencio showed up in my high school classroom.” In: The Daily Practice of Compassion


— Dr. Valerie Romero-Leggott

Dr. Loretta Cordova de Ortega, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics, has a similar memory of Atencio coming to her high school.  In: The Daily Practice of Compassion


— Dr. Loretta Cordova de Ortega

Dr. Alfredo Vigil, M.D., Class of 77, Secretary for the New Mexico Department of Health from 2007-2010, “I’ve spent my life in rural communities in New Mexico because of Alonzo.  Everything I’ve done was because of Alonzo. A hundred doctors might say the same.” In:  The Daily Practice of Compassion


— Dr. Alfredo Vigil

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