Center of Excellence in Diversity in Medical Education

Spotlight on Leadership

Yvonne Maldonado


Yvonne Maldonado, MD, has spent her life ignoring borders.

Though her mother was from Juarez and her father from Chihuahua, she grew up speaking only English at home in Los Angeles and so taught herself Spanish on summer visits to her grandmother's house in northern Mexico.

While attending the University of California, Los Angeles, she found herself fascinated by the brand new field of biochemistry, so she chose to major in microbiology, one of only 90 undergraduates from the university's registered 30,000 students.

As a specialist in infectious diseases at Packard Children's Hospital, her work studying some of childhood's most dread enemies—malaria, polio, measles, HIV—has taken her from small towns in northern California to Mayan enclaves in Mexico and poverty-stricken villages in Zimbabwe.

"My background has a lot to do with how I look at things. I grew up in two cultures and so I understand how important it is to respect other cultures, particularly in terms of international health," says Maldonado, who serves on federal, national and international advisory committees addressing pediatric infectious diseases, pediatric vaccines and international health.

"My parents taught me to be an independent person and supported me in my choices. I used to play with chemistry sets when I was little and knew I wanted to work in medical research—I was wired that way. I have always stayed on that same path, even though my goals have changed along the way."

Though a family doctor promised her his clinical practice once she finished medical school, Maldonado remained as strongly drawn to science and to public health issues as she was to seeing patients.

"I was interested in all three equally," she says. "I felt some pressure as a Chicano to go back to my community, but then I realized that you don't have to be in the community to serve the community.

Maldonado founded the first pre-med Chicano organization at UCLA and is a member of the National Hispanic Medical Association. She has served on numerous diversity committees and makes it a point to mentor female and minority medical students as they struggle with career and identity dilemmas.

"There are always obstacles. No one has figured out how to balance all the roles you can do. It takes the support of family and friends, as well as institutional resources," says Maldonado, a mother of three. "You have to find a mentor, someone to support you and give advice that you can at least think about, and then you need to just do what you love to do."

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