Josh Hawkins, UNLV Creative Services
Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018 | 2 a.m.
His father immigrated from Syria; his mother from Mexico.
Kevin Ashi, 21, spent his childhood between his parents’ countries and the United States. The UNLV student hopes to draw on his experiences in both rural Mexico and in Syria to help solve public health challenges in developing countries.
Ashi and his family eight years ago moved to Las Vegas, where he graduated from Palo Verde High School with honors before attending UNLV’s Honor College, where he majored in biology and pre-med and minored in French.
Ashi and four of his UNLV peers, all aspiring physicians, recognized that while the university was building up its medical school, it didn’t have an organization dedicated to helping minority and Latino students navigate the pre-medical field.
So Ashi two years ago co-founded UNLV’s Latino Pre-Medical Student Association.
“Las Vegas, specifically, is very underrepresented with minority physicians ... a lot of health disparities are caused by this under-representation,” he said. “If many American doctors try to talk to Hispanics, they don’t get the idea across. They have two different cultures, they don’t speak the same language and even if they do share the language, if the Hispanic speaks English, there’s a lot of cultural barriers.”
The group aspires to keep more minority and Latino students in the health care field. Ashi has already participated in undergraduate research, tutored other students, lobbied for STEM research funding in Washington, D.C., and completed a Harvard fellowship studying public health in Peru over the summer.
“I think only these physicians with the same culture can really bridge the gap between culture and medicine,” Ashi said.
The association reaches out to Las Vegas-area high schools to mentor students who may be interested in pursuing pre-med in college. The group is open to students of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds.
“Whenever we go do educational outreach, we try to focus on schools and underserved parts of town, and when we do that, we’re not just helping Hispanics, we’re helping all minorities,” Ashi said.
Since the creation of the association in 2016, the membership grew from seven students to about 50. After Ashi finishes his bachelor’s degree in the fall, he will pursue medical school to study public health and epidemiology.
And, of course, he will continue advocating for those with public health challenges.