Bringing Their Whole Selves to the Job

Hispanic Hopkins employees use their backgrounds to improve communication with patients, community.

Published in Community Health - Community Health Stories

For hematology research coordinator Manuela Plazas, National Hispanic Heritage Month presents a chance to challenge stereotypes and show that the Latino/Hispanic community includes a vast variety of races, origins, sexual orientations, languages, dialects and traditions.

“It is also a great opportunity to celebrate what unites us — our passion, resilience and determination — and to embrace the lasting contributions that our community has made in the U.S.,” Plazas says.

According to a 2018 study, Hispanic or Latino people make up 10% of the Johns Hopkins Health System’s patient population and four percent of the workforce. Since 1968, Americans all over the nation have observed Hispanic Heritage Month by celebrating the vast histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

Plazas works in The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Division of Hematology. She was born in Costa Rica, grew up in Colombia, and has also lived in Peru and Guatemala. She moved to the United States more than a decade ago.

A native Spanish speaker, Plazas says she finds that knowing Spanish is a plus at Johns Hopkins. She is working to become a certified translator.

“It helps me build relationships with Latino patients and I can help them get better access to resources,” she says.

Plazas also mentors for De Estudiantes a Lideres, a program connecting local Latino/Hispanic high school youth with meaningful mentoring and workforce development experiences. She is a liaison for Spanish speaking families involved in the Johns Hopkins Summer Jobs Program — she supports students during the entire application process and continues to empower them throughout the summer.

Like Plazas, April Lugo — Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion program coordinator — was a De Estudiantes a Lideres mentor over the summer. She is also co-chair of the employee resource group Hopkins Familia and a coordinator of the bilingual staff program.

Lugo, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, grew up in Pennsylvania. She was a Johns Hopkins University student and in the first generation of her family to go to college. She interned with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and says she “fell in love with the work.”

“I can bring my whole self to my job,” Lugo says. “I think diversity and inclusion improve our organization because the more diverse our thoughts, the stronger our programs are.”

Marcelo Batkis, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry, agrees.

“It is important to invite people into your world and to seek out opportunities to celebrate your own heritage as well as those of all our Latino cultures,” he says.

Batkis was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He immigrated to the United States in 1981 and has been treating patients with mental health and substance abuse issues for more than 30 years.

Batkis says growing up in another country helps him work with patients from a variety of backgrounds.

“I can see things from a different perspective, and my openness invites patients to relax and feel that their own unique perspectives are important and valued,” he says. “When working with Latino patients, I feel my ability to relate to them in their own language and my curiosity and appreciation for their cultures is an extremely important part of the healing process.”

Through his work with Baltimore’s Center for Salud/Health & Opportunities for Latinos, Batkis helped establish support groups (called Testimonios) for Latino immigrants experiencing stress. During Testimonios group meetings, participants describe their immigration experiences, and put a voice to their strengths and stressors. He also addresses the effects of community-based violence through the Urban Health Institute grant Program Unidos y Seguros, and he works to address the growing need for substance abuse treatment in the Spanish-speaking immigrant community.

Batkis says he hopes Johns Hopkins employees celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by learning more about the Latino/Hispanic experience and being more open to the community’s needs.

“Every story is unique,” adds Lugo. “Hispanic Heritage Month encourages people to share all of their sides and all of their perspectives.”

“If you are not Latino or Hispanic,” says Plazas, “it’s a great opportunity for you to learn more. Please participate in the events and be open-minded. I think you’ll learn how diverse and rich our culture truly is.”

Get information about upcoming events

To learn more about the qualified bilingual staff program, visit and then click on Qualified Bilingual Staff Program.

To learn more about Hopkins Familia, visit their Facebook page.