Championing Representation & Advocacy in Healthcare

June 12, 2024
Above: Kimberly Gamarra

Kimberly Gamarra, a graduate of the University of Utah’s School of Biological Sciences, was recently accepted to the U’s Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine. While Gamarra has been successful in her pursuit of her goals to work in the medical field,  her journey has been fraught with challenges.


Participating in the English as a Second Language (ESL) Express Registration event at SLCC as a peer mentor leader.

Gamarra’s exciting educational milestone boils down to personal triumph, mentorship, and resilience. Navigating her family’s adopted home of the U.S., she began her undergraduate studies early during high school, completing concurrent enrollment classes through Salt Lake Community College before finishing her degree at the U.

In the university setting Gamarra found guidance and community through the Refugees Exploring the Foundations of Undergraduate Education In Science (REFUGES) Bridge Program (REFUGES), designed to support students with tools for college and career readiness. Founded by physics faculty member Tino Nyawelo, the program proved to be a pivotal support system for Gamarra. “From the start, I've always wanted to do medicine," she reflects. “That was my goal. And so having Tino’s program, there was a huge help in acclimating to the new campus and getting to know faculty, staff, and other students. And it really helped me network really well from the start, and feel more comfortable.” Through the program, she not only found her footing in the academic landscape but also discovered her capacity for leadership and mentorship, being able to give back as a science and mathematics tutor.

Gamarra is quick to open up about her upbringing and how her family’s challenges during her childhood impacted her present journey: “My parents are immigrants from Peru and their transition to the U.S, especially navigating healthcare, was a challenge. I suffered from a brain tumor as a child, so a big motivation for them moving to the U.S. was to make sure I received the best treatment possible. This whole process opened my eyes to the strengths and struggles of our current healthcare system, and ways I can help make it better.” 

Drawing from her family's experiences, Gamarra is prepared to think beyond traditional healthcare expectations by providing care for her future patients on more than just a physical level, emphasizing the importance of equity, inclusion, and community on health and well-being. She has been involved in several projects that provide guidance to Latinx families about free health-related resources and volunteers her time as a Spanish and English translator. Her interactions with patients, families and mentors are what fueled her determination to continue pursuing medicine. She is particularly interested in helping foster a greater sense of trust between physicians and their patients, which she sees as key to success. 

At the Mitaka Picture Book initiative in Japan, reading Spanish to Japanese children and their families.

Transcending cultural and linguistic barriers

With an interest in global health and social justice, Gamarra envisions a career that transcends borders and barriers. In her final year at the U, she attended the Oxford Consortium for Human Rights based in the UK, where she drew a strong parallel between health and human rights. With her group she presented on climate refugees and the barriers to accessing healthcare, as well as discussing health from a cultural point of view considering the existence of traditional medicine. Upon returning to Utah, she helped create the podcast RadioNatura, opening up these discussions to a global audience. This commitment to removing cultural and linguistic barriers defines Gamarra's vision for her future in medicine. 

With a degree in biology and a minor in pediatric clinical research, Gamarra will begin medical school this August with an interest in pediatrics. She hopes to expand on her expertise and knowledge: “Presenting different studies that doctors in the University of Utah health community are doing really opened my eyes to the vulnerability of children,” she states. “I see the field of pediatrics as a promising one because I can have a long-term impact and build strong relationships with families, providing comprehensive care that considers the well-being of both the child and the family unit.” 

‘Doing More’ is a subjective term

Though Gamarra has experienced many ups and downs on her path, she has always remained focused on her goals. “I would be lying if I said this whole journey was smooth,” she admits. “It was actually extremely rocky. There were times I doubted myself because there was always a thought in my mind that I could be doing more. But I realized that ‘more’ is subjective. It is less about accumulating experiences and more about the reflections and growth that comes out of those experiences.” While Gamarra admits that she once admired people with busy calendars, she no longer glamorizes it: “Being ‘busy’ without time to self-reflect is not the path I want to take in my life.”

As she prepares to embark on the next chapter of her life — medical school — Gamarra carries with her the support of those who helped her along the way. “I just focus on the people that were there for me, and I think that because of the REFUGES Program, Tino is a wonderful person that was there for me. He was someone that saw me through this journey, and that is still with me through this next journey, which I value a lot.” 

In Kimberly Gamarra, the U’s School of Medicine has found more than just a future doctor, but an individual who will undoubtedly create change and strengthen communities wherever she goes.

By Julia St. Andre