"Voices of Mayo" highlights Mayo staff and their stories, exploring their diverse backgrounds, the challenges they face, the opportunities they have been given, and their experiences at Mayo Clinic.
During Hispanic Heritage Month, the News Center is sharing the experiences of Hispanic colleagues at Mayo Clinic and their thoughts on creating a culture of empathy, support and belonging at Mayo Clinic.
Elizabeth Pantoja, Clinical Cancer Studies Unit
I grew up in El Paso, Texas. There, I earned an academic scholarship that allowed me to be the first person in my family to receive a college education. My degree in Biology led me to job opportunities in DNA and Alzheimer's research and cytogenetics.
In 2001, my family and I moved to Jacksonville. At that time, the Hispanic population in Jacksonville was only 5.1%, compared to the current 11.4%. Initially, it was quite a cultural adjustment for my family and me. But, at the same time, it was extremely exciting.
I strongly believe in paying it forward and investing in the well-being of others. Currently, I teach English to new immigrants and refugees at my church. I also teach Spanish to teachers in the community who want to better connect with their English As a Second Language students. I am also very involved in medical mission trips. As you can see, I wear many different hats in the community.
As my appreciation and curiosity for clinical studies grew, I ventured out to learn more about Phase I studies. This led me to begin my career with Mayo Clinic in 2012. I began as a certified clinical research coordinator in Oncology. Two years later, I accepted a position as an affiliate coordinator, which not only broadened my understanding of clinical trial management but also gave me an opportunity to work in community outreach research. In 2020, I accepted a position in the Memory Disorder Clinic where I am leading our team in expanding research trial opportunities for Hispanics and other underrepresented communities.
I feel very fortunate that my experiences at Mayo Clinic have been positive. Although I never felt like an outsider, I needed something more that would allow me to grow as an individual. I soon became involved in the ALMA Mayo Employee Resource Group (MERG). The decision to become active in the ALMA MERG transformed my professional outlook and enhanced my passion for civic involvement.
As part of the Mayo Hispanic American Advisory Board, I am able to share the great work that is being done at Mayo Clinic with other city leaders. With the wonderful support of Mayo Clinic and the ALMA MERG, we were able to invite the Mayor's Hispanic American Advisory Board to our campus in 2018. This began a joint effort between Mayo Clinic — through ALMA — and city community leaders to bring health education to the Hispanic community, especially during COVID-19.
Overall, I believe Mayo Clinic has done a better job of opening more staff opportunities to be involved in various MERGs, EverybodyIN, etc. Mayo Clinic also has supported community outreach efforts which continue to foster the development of stronger relationships within underrepresented communities.
Again, I think that being part of both the ALMA and Global Health MERGs has afforded me the chance to network with other colleagues and learn from everyone that I've had the good fortune of meeting along the way.
Personally, I think that being involved in MERGs has helped enrich my experiences with other diverse groups both within Mayo Clinic and outside.
I remain optimistic in believing that we all can make this a better world when we work together to find common ground and truly maximize our efforts to bring out the very best that lies in each one of us.