From the very beginning of her training in medicine, Dr. Elena Rios has worked to improve the recruitment and success rates of minority students in United States medical schools. After graduation she turned her voluntary work with individual students into a large-scale national effort, by co-founding the National Network of Latin American Medical Students. Since then, she has held a series of appointments in California programs designed to improve educational and career opportunities for minorities in the health professions, and in 1998 Dr. Rios was appointed president of the National Hispanic Medical Association.
Elena Rios was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1955. She was a highly motivated student from a very young age, receiving an Outstanding Teenager of America Award when she was 18 years old and a state scholarship for four years of college. She enrolled at Stanford University in 1973, where she studied human biology and public administration. In 1975 she founded a college recruitment program for minority high school students, and served as coordinator of the project for two years. In the holidays between semesters she worked as a research assistant at Stanford Hospital and as an intern, studying health policy in Washington and California. For the next couple of years, Rios worked in various health care programs and attended graduate school at the University if California, Los Angeles, earning an M.S.P.H. in health planning and policy analysis in 1980. After a year of pre-med studies at Creighton University, she enrolled in the school of medicine at UCLA. Developing a growing commitment to improving minority recruitment to medical school, she worked as a counselor to applicants during the summer, and in her final year was appointed director of a statewide outreach program to recruit minority high school and college students to the health professions.
In 1987, Rios received her doctor of medicine degree, and then went on to residencies in internal medicine at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and White Memorial Medical Center. In 1989, Dr. Rios founded the National Network of Latin American Medical Students Association. A year later, she returned to the University of California for a fellowship in primary care health services research.
Building a career in health policy research and administration as well as medical school recruitment, Dr. Rios has held numerous appointments in both fields. She has served on the UCLA School of Medicine Admissions Committee and California State Bar Examiners Committee, and has been appointed to a series of government-led research initiatives including the White House National Health Care Reform Task Force, in 1993. In 1994 Dr. Rios was named advisor for regional and minority women's health at the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services, served on the advisory committee for health and science recruitment (part of the President's commission on educational excellence for Hispanic Americans) and was also a delegate to the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.
In 1998, Dr. Rios became president of the National Hispanic Medical Association (an organization she helped found in 1994) and CEO of Hispanic-Serving Health Professional School, Incorporated.
Dr. Rios has received an array of awards, including the American Association of Indian Physicians Appreciation Award in 1995 and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health Award in 1998. She was named one of the 100 Most Influential Hispanics of the Nation by Hispanic Business Magazine in 2001 and received the American Public Health Association's Latino Caucus Distinguished Career Award the same year.