Burning the Midnight Oil to Bridge Healthcare and Democracy

Mariela magana ceballos san ysidro health civic engagement intern and at still university medical student

At 6:00 am, Mariela’s alarm jolts her awake after a night of burning the midnight oil, fueled by determination and a late-night snack. As she sips her tea and grabs a quick breakfast, Mariela mentally prepares for another day at San Ysidro Health (SYHealth), where her medical student journey intertwines with her new role as a Civic Engagement Intern. Since its inception in 1969, SYHealth has been a beacon of compassionate and high-quality healthcare, prioritizing the most vulnerable in San Diego County. Serving as a federally qualified health center (FQHC), it is noteworthy that 85% of its patients live at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, highlighting its commitment to equitable healthcare access for all.

By 8:00 am, Mariela is already at one of SYHealth’s clinics, ready to meet her first patient at 8:15 am. Memories flood back from her early days in medical school, particularly a poignant encounter with a homeless pregnant woman battling type 1 diabetes. From managing insulin regimens amidst transient living arrangements to navigating dietary challenges, Mariela reflects on broader societal issues like healthcare access and equity.

“In our brief moments with patients, we must empower them not just in managing health but also in advocating for their rights,” Mariela asserts. “Voting is not merely a civic duty; it is a tool for shaping policies impacting healthcare outcomes.”

As a Civic Engagement Intern, Mariela embodies this ethos at SYHealth. Alongside her medical studies at A.T. Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona, she channels her passion for community service and policy advocacy into initiatives like My Vote. My Health. This statewide effort, gearing up for the November 2024 election, aims to amplify underrepresented voices, particularly Latinos, in California.

Drawing from eight years of civic engagement and policy advocacy, Mariela strives to bridge healthcare and civic participation. Through partnerships between SYHealth and educational institutions like A.T. Still University, she envisions a future where medical students catalyze systemic change beyond clinical roles.

Statistics paint a stark reality: while Latinos make up 40% of California’s population, only 25% are likely voters. Initiatives like My Vote. My Health. seek to mobilize low-propensity voters across key regions, addressing this disparity. SYHealth acknowledges that healthcare extends beyond clinics, with social determinants significantly impacting well-being. Mariela’s advocacy, fueled by collective action’s tangible impact, emphasizes the importance of every vote.

“Every vote matters,” Mariela insists, citing instances where a mere twenty votes swayed local elections. “We must dispel the myth that one vote does not make a difference. Our health, communities, and future hinge on active participation in shaping policies prioritizing equity and justice.”

As Mariela continues her dual journey as a medical student and civic advocate, her story underscores the profound connection between voting and healthcare – a bond transcending ballots and clinic walls to forge a healthier, more equitable society.


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Esteban Villanueva