Breaking Barriers and Embracing Health: A Conversation with UnitedHealthcare’s Dr. Hernandez 

Breaking Barriers and Embracing Health: A Conversation with UnitedHealthcare’s Dr. Hernandez 

We recently sat down with Dr. Mayrene Hernandez, National Sr. Medical Director for UnitedHealthcare’s commercial Healthcare Strategies business in a candid conversation about her path to a career in medicine. Her story is about more than academic success – it’s about a reflection of her steadfast resolve to overcome personal and cultural challenges. In this exclusive with BELatina, Dr. Hernandez shares the complex obstacles she faced and the relentless determination that has shaped her. 



Cultural Challenges and Familial Resistance

Dr. Hernandez began by pointing out the cultural barriers she faced along her journey, like the day she told her dad she wanted to become a physician. “He was my biggest obstacle and felt that being a doctor was no job for a woman,” she said. Fueled by her passion for medicine and commitment to overcome barriers, she turned that negative energy into her driving force. And as it would turn out, she performed her father’s liver biopsy at bedside alongside a supervising professor. 

Representation and Cultural Understanding in Healthcare

Today, Dr. Hernandez is among just seven percent of the nation’s physicians who identify as Hispanic. As she explains, the lack of representation in the medical field can be troublesome for Latinos and other people of color, who tend to experience better health outcomes when their doctors reflect their ethnic backgrounds. “When patients know their clinician understands them, they’re more likely to trust them and follow their guidance,” she said. “It’s about much more than language, it’s about understanding dietary habits, traditions, and social dynamics.” 

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 12 percent of students enrolled in U.S. medical schools identify as Latino. “We make up a small number of physicians today, but I’m hopeful that others will follow our path,” Hernandez added as she referenced the importance of Hispanic associations, mentors, and organizations that are working to increase diversity in healthcare. She also encourages aspiring students to look for scholarships, like this one, which is part of the United Health Foundation’s $100 million investment over 10 years to deepen efforts in health workforce diversity. 

Promoting Preventive Healthcare

Dr. Hernandez advocates for increased health awareness within the Hispanic community and said that open enrollment period is the time of year that millions of people get to choose or change health insurance for the following year.  

She went on to add it’s important to use this time as an opportunity to prioritize our own health. “If we do not care for ourselves, we cannot care for those we love – our familia,” she said as she shared the following tips to help people choose the benefits that align with their budget and wellness needs. 

  • Take your time and consider all your options. Make sure you understand and compare the benefits, services and costs available to you. Educate yourself about available services and preventive measures covered by insurance plans. 
  • Learn the language. “Health care terms can be confusing, which is why we have created resources to help,” Dr. Hernandez said as she shared a glossary to enter health insurance jargon you may not quite get. By the way, it’s also available en español – pa’ tu tía. 
  • Look into wellness programs. Many programs reward you for taking healthier actions, such as completing a health survey, exercising, or avoiding nicotine. And many Medicare Advantage plans offer gym memberships and wellness programs at no additional cost. 

Dr. Hernandez stressed that enrollment periods aren’t the same for everyone, so there are key dates to keep in mind depending on your circumstances. For people with employer-provided coverage, the window to choose health insurance for 2024 typically falls during a 2- to 3-week period between September and December and the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period runs each year from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. 

Breaking Mental Health Stigma

As Dr. Hernandez spoke about the often-overlooked topic of mental health, she pointed out that stigma within the Latino community can deter people from seeking necessary support. One mistake many people make during Open Enrollment is not looking to see what’s offered through their Employee Assistance Program. She adds that EAPs are typically separate than your health benefits and that even though many employers offer them, relatively few employees take advantage of them. They usually offer financial guidance, help to cope with stress, and even help to deal with substance use.  

Empowering Latinas: A Call to Action

As we concluded our conversation, Dr. Hernandez reflected on our resilience as a community. “We are a strong people who are breaking barriers. She called on first-generation Americans who grew up bridging two cultures, interpreting for their parents, and navigating many firsts on their own, to “be advocates for those without a voice and set an example of excellence for future generations.”  

For more information on choosing a plan for you and your family, visit and, which is available in Spanish. 

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