Providing resources and education for underrepresented groups in medicine
With roles at Temple Hospital and SILAMP, Dr. Natalia Ortiz-Torrent works to increase visibility and education for physicians, healthcare professionals and potential medical students
Natalia Ortiz-Torrent’s childhood in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, was filled with closeness, familiarity and generosity.
Her father was the owner of a department store in their hometown of Cayey.
“I practically grew up in that business,” said Ortiz-Torrent, noting that oftentimes in addition to raising her and her younger sister at home, her mother would also work in the store.
Being around the business proved to be very valuable for the young Ortiz-Torrent.
“I learned the value of money, the value of responsibility... and the value of helping others,” she said.
Those values, coupled with a love for science, would soon become the avenue to her current career path in the medical profession.
Originally, Ortiz-Torrent studied chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico in Ponce as a safer route than medical school, with the goal of becoming a licensed chemist.
However, she later learned that she was accepted into the Ponce School of Medicine, one of three medical schools in Puerto Rico that were LCME accredited, shortly before passing the board exams and earning her license to become a licensed chemist.
“I didn’t get a chance to practice because I started studying medicine,” she said.
Upon graduating from the Ponce School of Medicine, Ortiz-Torrent moved to the U.S. mainland and began training at the Temple University Psychiatry Department for four years, later transitioning into her current area of expertise in consultation and liaison psychiatry in 2005.
Ortiz-Torrent said she decided to enter into the psychiatric field during rotations as a third-year medical student.
“When I sat down and started talking to patients, listening to their stories, helping them and learning about the root of their problems, and how the behaviors or emotions were affecting their medical illnesses, and how the medical conditions affected their behaviors…I said, ‘Ok, this is perfect. This is what I want to do,’” Ortiz-Torrent recalled.
Her area of consultation and liaison psychiatry, in which she serves as the medical director of the program at Temple University Hospital, analyzes the interface between how the brain, mind, spirit, culture and psychology interact amongst each other.
In addition to her role at Temple University Hospital, Ortiz-Torrent is very active in volunteering and philanthropic endeavors. This is most highlighted in her role as president of SILAMP (the Society of Ibero-Latin American Medical Professionals).
SILAMP is an association of Latino medical professionals and health providers in the tri-state area who are interested in sharing their ideas, resources and successes with their communities.
“We want to advance and promote education, and open the opportunities to education in healthcare careers to the Latin American population living in the United States or wanting to practice in the United States,” said Ortiz-Torrent.
In both roles, Ortiz-Torrent says the most gratifying part is the ability to “make a difference.” She really enjoys working with her patients and building trust in her patients.
“In psychiatry, trust is not easy to gain all the time, but there’s ways in which that can be accomplished,” she said about her role at Temple Hospital, adding that mentoring students and helping the community with SILAMP as other gratifying ordeals.
Overall, Ortiz-Torrent wants to be a leader who helps build the bridge for students of color who want to enter into the medical profession and help provide access to valuable resources that can help that aspiration become a reality.