During medical mission trips to Appalachia when she was younger, Gloria Tavera recognized the economic injustice many of the people she was helping faced—and she wanted to fight it.
“We weren’t going to solve the problem by going there and giving them gift cards to Walmart,” she said. “Someone was eventually going to need to solve the problem by preventing why they had to live in [such conditions] in the first place.”
Those trips fueled an early interest in social justice—as well as medicine—for Tavera, now a sixth-year in the Medical Scientist Training Program.
“Being exposed to injustice at an early age made me feel like I needed to do something about it,” she said. “When I became really interested in science in high school, I thought, ‘The way I’m going to do that is through science.’”
So, with a passion for research, medicine and social justice, Tavera has built her academic career around helping disadvantaged populations. And her work is getting noticed: In January, Forbes named her to its “30 Under 30” list in the health care category.
The recognition “was a validation that research and policy can be done together and that we can act now, as students, to change large systems that impact what is researched and how patients access the results of that research,” Tavera said.
Tavera’s research largely focuses on diseases that impact marginalized people. Previously, she studied malaria immunology, but her current project is on H. pylori—a bacteria that, if left untreated, can cause gastric cancer.
Outside of the classroom and lab, Tavera also is active—especially when it comes to ensuring people from all backgrounds receive quality care. Since 2011, she’s been president of the North American board of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, an organization that advocates to make medicines and health technologies more affordable.
In addition, Tavera volunteers with Street Medics, a group of individuals who provide care during natural disasters and protests as well as to underserved populations.
After completing the Medical Scientist Training Program, Tavera hopes to stay active as a social justice advocate while working as a scientist and physician.
Read Tavera’s full “30 under 30” profile in Forbes, but before you do, check out her answers to this week’s five questions.
1. What do you like most about Cleveland?
I like that it’s up-and-coming and understated. It’s small enough to build a community, but it’s large enough to be a sandbox of human progress and growth.
2. What’s your favorite social media platform?
It’s not necessarily social media, but Gmail on my phone helps me keep my life together.
3. What was the most influential class you’ve ever taken?
My AP biology class in high school [in Florida]. I took it junior year and I had a really inspiring teacher. Everything was fascinating in that class and it opened up new patterns of thinking to me. It got me committed to doing research in the long term.
4. If you could meet any historical figure, who would you pick, and why?
Rudolph Virchow, the father of modern pathology, but who is also known for his advancement of social medicine and public health. Virchow was a polymath and had a vision for science and research that included social issues and public health as an integral part of the practice. How we do science today is vastly different from how it was done in the late 1800s, but I think he would have a lot of interesting observations and suggestions on how we do science and health justice today.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
I like that we have social justice baked into a couple of our institutions. I like that we have a Social Justice Institute and a women’s center. I like that we have women in high places of power in this institution—we have Barbara Snyder as president, we have Pamela Davis as dean of the School of Medicine and we have Lina Mehta, dean of admissions of the medical school, to name a few.
We’re not perfect, but we really do try to build diversity, inclusion and social justice into a lot of what we do. It makes me proud.