Building bridges: Multilingual first-year medical student awarded national scholarship

January 21, 2020

Building bridges: Multilingual first-year medical student awarded national scholarship

 Like many students, first-year medical student Aurelio Muzaurieta came to Michigan Medicine with innovative and transformative goals for patient care.  Muzaurieta’s passion for underrepresented communities, coupled with his awe-inspiring experience serving them, speaks to his commitment to health care access and opportunity for all. His deep-rooted dedication has not gone unnoticed, as this past September he was awarded the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) inaugural Darrell G. Kirch Scholarship.    

Aurelio Muzaurieta

The $10,000 Kirch Scholarship is highly competitive — with more than 300 applications submitted. Muzaurieta was one of only eight underrepresented minority medical student applicants awarded across the nation.


“The goal behind the scholarship is to promote underrepresented minorities in the health care profession,” said Muzaurieta.


“The idea is to prepare the American health care system to properly care for an increasingly diverse patient population. The two main criteria that are used to select scholarship winners were leadership and community service.”


Muzaurieta has been sharpening his leadership skills and community service long before sending his Kirch Scholarship application. When he was young, Muzaurieta would occasionally translate and interpret for his Spanish-speaking grandparents. Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, Muzaurieta is of Cuban heritage and was raised bilingual — speaking both Spanish and English in his household.


“My bilingual household was the beginning of me starting to build bridges between different worlds,” said Muzaurieta. “Growing up I found that foreign language was a way to connect with people of different cultures, and enter into worlds that otherwise I would not have access to. And that was really important to me.” 


Muzaurieta began serving non-English speaking patients during his time at Harvard

 pursuing his undergraduate degree. Muzaurieta graduated cum laude and majored in Romance languages and literature, and earned certificates in global health policy, Latin American studies and Mandarin Chinese. Fluent in five languages — Spanish, English, French, Portuguese and Chinese — he utilized his language expertise to volunteer as a multilingual interpreter for health care and charity organizations.


Also while in studying Massachusetts, he worked in multilingual health care at Harvard’s Crimson Care Collaborative at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Red Cross and the Cambridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Muzaurieta has also served various health facilities in his home state of Florida.


While at Harvard, Muzaurieta conducted field research in Recife, Brazil, alongside Dr. Vanessa van der Linden. Van der Linden is the pediatric neurologist who identified the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly in infants. Muzaurieta and van der Linden’s research engaged efforts of awareness of the virus to vulnerable populations. In 2017 and 2018, he served as an international student advisor and coordinator for community service at Harvard.


Upon graduation, Aurelio pursued a fully-funded master’s degree in economics and management from Peking University, where he led a research team to investigate the challenges of Chinese physicians, health administrators and hospital owners in Chinese public and private sectors. In his role, Muzaurieta analyzed the current policy on physician regulation, and offered recommendations to improve equity and efficiency.


“Medicine, in my eyes, is the most human of professions,” said Muzaurieta. “I want to get close to the human experience in a way that is concrete.”


Muzaurieta said he has a variety of interests in medicine, but ultimately wants to be a health care professional that helps globalization thrive. He is a self-proclaimed “bridge-builder” — being skilled at using language and culture to connect two different worlds. While he is interested and focused on the health care of individual patients, in the long-term he also sees himself working and improving upon systems as a whole.  


“I want to make medicine more equitable, more accessible and more global,” said Muzaurieta. “If I do that, I’ll have a successful career.”