Alum wins $5,000 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship

Austin Rios | Courtesy



Austin Rios, a UTD alumnus and second-year medical student at Southwestern, received the Martin Luther King award on Jan. 17, a $5,000 scholarship for community service. Rios’ main goal with this scholarship is to make the health care field more equitable and accessible for all.

Rios struggled through childhood due to his parents’ divorce, which prompted his father to cancel health insurance for the whole family. Rios also watched his mother go through recovery after a cancer diagnosis. These struggles, coupled with growing up in a low-income household, made it difficult to pursue a career in medicine at first. However, his dream to become a doctor was reignited after attending classes and clinical rotations that focused on dermatology, nursing and dentistry at Plano East Senior High School. Rios said that witnessing firsthand how his mother struggled to get care inspired his determination to make health care more accessible and equitable.

“Seeing how difficult it was to pay for prescription medicine coverage was eye-opening for me,” Rios said. “I took on the lead role of interpreting between her and her providers … [this] was my introduction to medicine.”

In the time between his transition from community college to UTD, Rios participated in the summer Health Professions Education Program in McGovern, which connected him to mentors and introduced him formally to medicine.

“My bio professor, Dr. Diana Conseco, she’s a been a long-time mentor for me as well as a great friend,” Rios said.

As Rios began to feel like medicine was where he belonged, he also participated in the Johns Hopkins Health Disparities Solutions Summer program which parked his interest in the intersection between HIV and underprivileged communities. Rios carried this research interest into his last semester at UTD as a Bill Archer Fellow, when he took up a position at NASTAD, or National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors. In this role, Rios worked in advocacy efforts for HIV and hepatitis C

“I was like wow, this is so cool,” Rios said. “You get to look at someone’s nails and hair and you reveal clues about their health through that.”

Alongside research experience, Rios also partook in community service. For him, volunteering at Agape Clinic, a philanthropic charity in Dallas, helped him connect to his roots and give back to the community, which resonated with his Hispanic identity. 

“Every opportunity I get, I love spending it at the Agape Clinic, they’re my family … And frankly, it’s where I see myself in the future practicing [medicine],” Rios said. 

Volunteering at the Dallas County Medical Reserve Corps gave Rios the opportunity to feel the warmth of the community built during COVID, as well as allowing him to reconnect with a patient he worked with at Agape Clinic. 

“I get to see a change in history, a change in their health,” Rios said. “Being able to witness that was humbling … it was heartwarming.”

Rios said this same sentiment is what he believed provided him the opportunity to win the MLK scholarship. 

“Perhaps I was chosen because there were a lot of parallels between the mission that Dr. King fought for and my own personal mission of increasing representation in medicine,” Rios said.



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