BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic, run by
students at the University at Buffalo's medical school, is a key
reason why Michael J. Blanco, a Florida native, chose to attend
UB's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Now, the
third-year medical student has won an American Medical Association
Foundation 2012 Minority Scholars Award, in part, for his work at
the Lighthouse Clinic.
Blanco is one of only 13 students nationwide to receive the
$10,000 scholarship award, which recognizes academically
outstanding medical students committed to promoting diversity in
medicine and eliminating health care disparities. It is the second
year in a row that a UB medical student has won the prestigious AMA
"The Lighthouse is part of the reason I came here," says Blanco,
noting that he was impressed with the fact that UB's medical
students were getting involved, providing free medical care to
underserved populations in Buffalo.
The walk-in clinic serves Buffalo's East Side community under
the supervision of family medicine physician Kirk Scirto, MD, and
UB medical school faculty members who volunteer their time.
At the clinic, Blanco has served as infectious disease manager,
testing and counseling patients for diseases ranging from TB to
sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. In that role, he and
his colleagues maintain what he calls "a unique relationship" with
the Erie County Department of Health.
"We draw samples from the patients and provide them to the
Health Department, which conducts the testing for free," says
Blanco. "So we get the testing while the Health Department gets
access to data from the populations that we serve. "
Blanco notes that because of budget cuts, many clinics that used
to conduct STD testing in Buffalo have closed, making the services
available at the Lighthouse that much more valuable.
"We're one of very few STD testing locations left in Buffalo,"
says Blanco, who researched and presented this year at the national
Society of Student-Run Free Clinics Conference a poster on "The
Model for Cooperation on STD Testing Between a Student-Run Free
Clinic and a Public Health Laboratory."
"A lot of free medical clinics are experiencing funding
problems, so we wanted to describe that relationship, which has
been mutually beneficial," he says.
Blanco has also served as AMA Minority Issues Committee Liaison
and organized a Doctors Back to School program at Buffalo's Health
Sciences Charter School, which encourages minority youth to choose
a career in health care.
"We try and motivate students because they see medical students
and doctors that look like them so they know opportunities are out
there, and that there's limitless potential," he says.
And while Blanco is making every effort to try and inspire
others to follow their dreams, it wasn't that long ago that he
wasn't sure how he might achieve his own.
Shortly after graduating from the University of Florida with a
double major in integrative biology and business management, he got
married and started a family.
"I got kind of sidetracked and I had to go to work," he notes,
adding that he started working in his father's used car
"But the whole time I was doing that, I always had the desire to
go back to school and pursue my dream of going to medical school
and becoming a doctor," he says. "It came to the point where it was
now or never. Out of the places where I was accepted, I thought
Buffalo was the best fit. For the past two years now, I've been
living the dream."
Blanco lives in Buffalo with his wife and two young