Patricia Téllez-Girón, MD, associate professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, is the esteemed face of health care and education in Madison’s Latinx/e community and across Wisconsin. In celebration of her efforts, this month she received the Ohtli Award, the highest recognition awarded by the government of Mexico to a Mexican community leader in the United States or other countries.
The awards honors how Téllez-Girón embodies the school’s mission to advance health equity through service, education and research. As a family medicine physician, she is a champion for equitable and inclusive care, and as an educator, she is devoted to inspiring and mentoring youth and health professions students to achieve their full potential. The accolades that are most meaningful to Téllez-Girón, though, are the outcome of her work to advance health equity. “The greatest of my rewards is assuring that the communities I serve receive the services they deserve,” she said.
Téllez-Girón was raised in Mexico City and earned her medical degree from the National University of Mexico. She came to Wisconsin in 1997 for her residency in family medicine and soon after joined the faculty of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.
A steadfast advocate for the Latinx/e community, Téllez-Girón has mentored more than 50 students from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine, many of whom pursued medical school and became doctors. She also mentors current medical students through the school’s Building Equitable Access to Mentorship (BEAM) Program. Now in its fourth year, BEAM is a unique, evidence-based mentoring program that matches trained faculty mentors with new medical students from groups historically underrepresented in medicine. In 2008, she received a UW–Madison Outstanding Women of Color Award.
Téllez-Girón’s scholarly work focuses on systematic approaches to advancing health and access to care in the Latinx/e community. She has published work on how community ties and support play a role in wellness during times of adversity, strategies for increasing representation in the health care community, providing culturally sensitive end-of-life care for the Latinx/e community, and more.
In the broader Madison community, Téllez-Girón’s impact was strongly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her unwavering support for vaccine access played a pivotal role in stemming the virus's spread within the Latinx/e community and Dane County. Time Magazine recognized her in 2020 for her role in "bridging divides across America." Since 2001, Téllez-Girón has chaired the Latino Health Council of Dane County, a collaborative network of over 40 local health organizations. She also hosts "Nuestra Salud" ("Our Health"), a monthly program on south central Wisconsin’s Spanish language radio station, La Movida, educating and empowering the community on health matters. In 2022 she was named a Superhero of Medicine by the Wisconsin Medical Society and in 2023 received a Physician Excellence Award from UW Health.
The word “ohtli” in the name of the Ohtli Award is based on the ancient Nahuatl language of the central Mexican region, with “ohtli” meaning "road" or "path” to symbolize those who open a path for others. Téllez-Girón exemplifies this quality in her strength and determination, according to Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, MA, CDM, associate dean for diversity and equity transformation. “Dr. Téllez-Girón is an inspiration and a heroine for us all,” she said. “We are so honored to walk this path in community with her.”