Access and Health Equity
A Career Rooted in Championing Diversity and Inclusion: Jesse's Story
Stories@Gilead - October 13, 2022 - 4 min read
While Jesse Garcia was growing up in Chicago's inner city, his parents didn't immediately turn to a doctor when someone in the family got sick.
"We relied on traditional Latino medicine including herbal therapies," he says. "And when that didn't work, we would go to the pharmacy because the community pharmacist was accessible and free to see."
This experience stuck with him throughout his youth. When he went to college – the first person in his family to do so – he decided to study pharmacology. "I looked back at my interactions with local pharmacists," says Jesse. "I thought about how amazing it must have felt to help people and to impact local Latino communities, especially those that are underserved."
Today, Jesse is a Senior Medical Scientist at Gilead, where he engages with thought leaders and physicians to figure out the best way to collaborate and drive science forward. His path to this fulfilling career wasn't easy. As a child, with his parents support, he changed his name from Jesus to Jesse, driven by the need to fit in at school. He was also only one of two Latinos in his college class of more than 150 students. And he didn't have the opportunity to take on a residency or fellowship because he had to work nearly full time to put himself through school. Additionally, he took on a large amount of student debt to help make it to graduation.
"Pharmacy school was tough because I didn't have family members that went to college. I wasn’t able to lean on them for test-taking strategies, time management skills, or balancing going to school while working," he remembers. "As a Latino and a male, I was told growing up that I was strong, I could do it on my own and I shouldn't ask people for help."
But Jesse credits his skill of speaking Spanish – which was passed down from his parents – for helping him succeed at his first job out of college, where he reviewed medication profiles for Spanish-speaking patients. And it was through this work that he started to notice health equity issues.
"Patients were unable to access medicine through structural or program barriers," says Jesse. "Some patients couldn't afford the copay. People may think ‘Here's a $1,000 a month medication and the copay was brought down to just $20.' But some people don't have $20 a month to spare. I realized working to solve this issue was my calling."
Jesse joined Gilead three years ago, and during this time he has prioritized working on health equity, inclusion and diversity issues. He works with community physicians in rural areas to collaborate on solving unmet medical needs, and along with Porscha Showers, Principal Medical Scientist, and Kelsey Tinkum, Senior Medical Scientist, at Gilead, he co-founded a shadowing internship program for underrepresented students to help increase diversity within the Medical Scientist talent pipeline. The program provides field-based experience that’s difficult to acquire. Also in 2021, Jesse led an effort to help bring a student loan reimbursement program to Gilead because he didn't want others to carry the same large burden he carried.
Jesse’s career continues to blossom, and he has also found community at Gilead. Through Gileados, Gilead's Latino Employee Resource Group, Jesse serves as the Global Lead and helps ensure his colleagues advance their careers. There are around 1,500 Gilead employees in the group, at all levels of the organization and from around the world.
"We have Latino people in leadership positions, and we also have Latino people behind the scenes in our manufacturing plants," he says. "I want to help increase the number of Latino leaders in the organization, but I'm also passionate about elevating the voice of all my Latino colleagues across the organization. When we elevate the Latino voice, opportunities for Latino families emerge and narrowing Latino-specific health equity gaps become a reality."
Today, Jesse sums up his role at Gilead succinctly. "In my day job, I'm trying to help find cures for devastating diseases, like cancer," he says. "Through my Gileados work, I'm trying to change family trees."