Dr. Valbuena’s Michigan Answer: Being Empowered to Empower Others

Most aspiring physicians study medicine with the hopes of saving lives, being on the cutting edge of research, or developing the latest therapies and technologies. For Dr. Valeria Valbuena, it was all of the above, plus one additional life-affirming goal. 

I want to play a leading role in promoting and organizing a diverse workforce in medicine.

“I want to play a leading role in promoting and organizing a diverse workforce in medicine,” says Dr. Valbuena. 

Aside from being a general surgery resident with the goal of becoming a transplant surgeon, Dr. Valbuena is equally motivated to empower medical students from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue surgical specialties, research and advocacy.

Originally from Colombia, Dr. Valbuena completed her undergraduate medical education in Illinois, where she was an active member and leader of the Latino Medical Student Association. There, her commitment to help minoritized students become physicians and surgeons led her to begin researching exactly how to make her dream possible. 

Not long after beginning her residency training with the Michigan Medicine Department of Surgery, she found her answer. With the help of many dedicated mentors and a small group of current University of Michigan Medical School students, Dr. Valbuena developed the LEAGUES Fellowship, a pipeline program designed for first-year medical students from across the country who are interested in the intersection of racial and gender equity and surgery. 

“The patient care delivered at Michigan Medicine is outstanding,” says Dr. Valbuena. “And because we do such a good job of helping people while welcoming change and inclusion, I knew the LEAGUES Fellowship could thrive here. The support from this institution has been phenomenal.” 

Besides being a mentor to minority medical students, the biggest benefit of the LEAGUES Fellowship is that it allows Dr. Valbuena to foster pathways for those in underserved communities who might not see themselves pursuing a career in surgery.    

“What sets Michigan apart is their desire to help you be the best surgeon and the best person you can be,” says Dr. Valbuena. “The level of mentorship and dedication to residents is outstanding and something I really wanted to be a part of. And I want to help continue to cast a wider net for serving everyone.”