Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: Two VCU Health Administration students hone leadership skills, while sharing experiences through national mentorship program

Two Virginia Commonwealth University College of Health Professions students in the Master of Health Administration (MHA) program, were selected through a competitive process for a  mentorship and leadership development program designed for students and early careerists through the National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives (NALHE). NALHE is the premiere professional society for healthcare leaders who identify as Latino, Latina, Latinx, or Latine, as well as their allies.

It is known as the La Mesa Emerging Leaders Program –– a yearlong cohort-structured leadership development program that provides a safe space for sharing of lived experiences, exchange of knowledge, connections, networking and open discussions with prominent healthcare executives from across the country. The program only accepts 25 participants each year from across the nation.

Melo Victor and Augusto Gonzalez
Victor Melo and Augusto Gonzalez, are two MHA program students who have been involved with the National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives' La Mesa Emerging Leaders Program.

Augusto Gonzalez and Victor Melo from VCU’s MHA program first became aware of the opportunity through Stephan Davis, DNP, MHSA, FACHE, FAAN, the College’s associate dean for inclusive excellence and belonging, and executive director of inclusive leadership education in VCU’s Department of Health Administration.

Melo, who is a first generation Hispanic-American and whose family is from Mexico, took part in the La Mesa program as a participant in 2022, and now is part of a committee involved in planning upcoming events and activities for current and future participants. He reflects on the difficulties of identifying professionals with shared backgrounds and lived experiences until participating in the La Mesa program, which he credits with helping him and others from various disciplines connect on a number of topics, including financial literacy, executive presence, resume writing, and professional presentation.

“We have talked about our upbringings, challenges, barriers we’ve faced and our different experiences,” said Melo. “La Mesa provides a safe space for our development and a way for us to interact and connect. It certainly feels like we empower each other. We want to make change and bring that change through our diverse experiences.”

Gonzalez, who is of Argentinian descent and a first-generation student, recently completed a year as a participant in the La Mesa program. He says he was particularly drawn to other cohort members being in different aspects of their careers, as well as the values each of the members have in common.

“What really opened my eyes was being with people from all walks of life, within the healthcare community specifically, and having similar experiences with other current and aspiring leaders who understand the unique barriers faced by Latino healthcare professionals. This has been career-changing for me,” said Gonzalez. “The fact that people are trying to improve outreach and access to health care for the Latino population is really inspiring, because it makes me feel as though we are establishing a foundation for excellent healthcare for Latinos – an infrastructure of support that we will continue to build upon in the years to come.”

Gonzalez says they treat one another like family in the La Mesa program.

“We call each other family, and it’s really true, beyond just meeting with each other weekly. We check in on each other frequently and share details of our lived experiences and challenges," said Gonzalez. “It goes beyond just being a part of the cohort.”

Melo is expected to graduate from the MHA program in 2024, and currently is completing his administrative residency at HCA Florida Northwest Hospital and HCA Florida Westside Hospital in the Fort Lauderdale Greater region. Gonzalez is in the MHA program class of 2025. He recently served as an administrative intern in VCU Health’s Department of Neurosurgery.

“We always try to be there for each other, so when you're looking ahead, just reflect on your values. For me, family is at the core. For Latinos, Hispanics, immigrants, being hardworking is something that I would say not to forget,” said Melo. “My parents made a significant amount of sacrifices and I'm sure that many immigrant parents have made a lot of sacrifices for future generations to be where they are– we should always remember this. Make the difference, work hard, don't give up. Everybody has different struggles, but it's about how you deal with it and it's about how you persevere.”

The Inclusive Leadership Education initiative in the VCU Department of Health Administration was launched in 2022 to cultivate a culture of inclusion and belonging for all members of the VCU Health Administration learning community. The involvement of Gonzalez and Melo in NALHE’ s program is reflective of the aims of this initiative and supporting the success of students from backgrounds that have not always been well-represented in the field of healthcare management. 

For more information about the La Mesa program, visit the National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives La Mesa webpage.

The VCU Department of Health Administration is a premiere research department geared toward creating the most innovative, compassionate, and business-savvy leaders to reimagine healthcare. With access to the amenities of a large institution in a small and student-centric atmosphere, the Department of Health Administration teaches students the executive and technical skills needed to be well-rounded leaders.

The department's master's degree program, the residential Master of Health Administration and the online-hybrid Master of Science in Health Administration for experienced professionals, is rated in the top three among its peers in the country by U.S. News and World Report. Also offered is the highly regarded PhD program in Health Services Organization and Research. For more information, visit the Health Administration website.

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