A Tribute to Dr. Richard Zapanta

Dr. Richard Zapanta’s mother refused to let him be discouraged by a high school counselor who had told him settle for being an auto mechanic. She inspired him by her example of completing high school as a forty-year old adult, and both Dr. Zapanta and his mother graduated from East Los Angeles College at the same time. Full of hope after graduating from the University of Southern California, he applied to seventeen medical schools, and was rejected by all. Undaunted, he sought a National Medical Fellowship and studied a post-bac for a year at Haverford College in Philadelphia, and was subsequently accepted to study medicine at the University of Southern California. He completed his residency at the Los Angeles County + USC medical center. When he began his studies, he was one of only six Under Represented Minorities (URM—four Latino, two Black) in the class. Dr. Zapanta remembered that, “We all wanted to get Chicanos into medical school, and have them succeed,” so moved into the forefront of “banging on doors” of medical school deans, in order to “open the doors” for more URM students.

Dr. Zapanta was supportive of early efforts in Latino health, including the Los Angeles County+USC Med Ocho program, the Chicanos for Community Medicine and the Latino Medical Students’ Association. He was one of the founders of the USC Mexican American Alumni Association, that continues to offer scholarships to this day. He also helped to found the American Association of Latino Orthopedic Surgeons (AALOS), which organization recently honored the legendary farm worker organizer Dolores Huerta.

Dr. Zapanta could have practiced anywhere in Los Angeles County, but chose to remain in East Los Angeles, where he established the East Side Orthopedic Medical Group, in which he practiced orthopedic surgery, internal medicine and sports medicine: he was proud of the fact that his patients are 98% Hispanic. In a recent interview, he said, “I think everybody should have a commitment, and I feel very strongly that you should give back.”

Dr. Richard Zapanta set an example for all of us in the health care field.

By David E. Hayes-Bautista

December 7, 2019

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