Empowering Communities: FIU Honors Student Jose Cabas Peraza’s Impactful Work in South Florida’s Medical Landscape

David Melendez Research, Spotlight

At the FIU Honors College, knowledge knows no bounds. Our students reflect our values to be innovative, compassionate, and committed to change. Meet Jose Cabas Peraza, a senior at the FIU Honors College and College of Arts, Sciences & Education majoring in chemistry and set to graduate in the spring of 2024.

For over a year, Jose has been a pediatric volunteer at the UHI Community Care Clinic, working under the guidance of Dr. Katherine Semidey. This clinic is a lifeline to uninsured and low-income families in South Florida, many of whom have recently immigrated to the United States. Through his volunteer work, Jose has witnessed firsthand the hurdles these families must overcome to access medical care—challenges ranging from lack of transportation and economic stability to insurance coverage, immigration status, and understanding of diseases. This experience has ignited a passionate drive within him to bridge the gaps in healthcare within the South Florida community and extend medical care to those who need it most.

Jose’s journey to make a difference received a significant boost when he was awarded the FIU Honors College Research Conference Scholarship. This invaluable financial support enabled him to attend the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) 2023 National Conference this past weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. At this conference, Jose gained essential insights into becoming a leader in medicine, an advocate for Latino and minority communities, and empowering underrepresented groups to pursue careers in the medical field. Being an immigrant himself from Cuba, Jose has gone through many hardships with his family. His experience has pushed him to advocate and provide meaningful care to families in need at the UHI Community Care Clinic.

At the LMSA PODER (Promoting Opportunities for Development & Empowerment of Researchers) Symposium, Jose had the opportunity to present a compelling poster presentation that illuminated the barriers families face in accessing medical care. His report highlighted the challenges faced by a 5-year-old boy with type-1 diabetes who had recently immigrated from Colombia with his mother. Due to their immigration status, they were ineligible for medical insurance, and a diminishing insulin supply made managing the child’s diabetes incredibly challenging. Factors such as a lack of access to transportation, limited parental understanding of the disease, and economic hardships exacerbated the barriers to proper glucose management.

With the guidance of Dr. Katherine Semidey and a dedicated team, they developed a plan to stabilize the insulin supply, provide parental guidance on glucose management, and increase the frequency of follow-up care. They could stabilize and control the patient’s glucose levels through patient assistance programs from pharmaceutical companies for a cost-free, stable insulin supply, telemedicine visits for more frequent follow-up care, and detailed insulin regimens in the mother’s preferred language. The publication and poster presentations aim to raise awareness of how social determinants of health impact diabetic glucose management and provide practical solutions for healthcare providers to address the barriers faced by underprivileged and uninsured families.

As Jose journeys toward medical school, intending to enroll in the summer of 2024, he thanks the mentorship of individuals like Dr. Katherine Semiday, Dr. Aileen Marty, and Dr. Barbra Roller. Their guidance and support, received from the Honors College and through the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, have become pivotal in his quest to bridge healthcare gaps. Jose is committed to paying forward the mentorship he has received by inspiring future generations of students and physicians to approach healthcare with empathy, innovation, and a determination to address disparities.