Alicia Fernandez


Alicia Fernandez

Faculty co-Lead, Research Enrichment Core


Professor, School of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Division of Internal Medicine



Alicia is social justice oriented, which greatly comes from her family’s experience in exile in New York City from a violent dictatorship in Argentina. She has been described as an “academic with the heart of an activist.” In the 1970s, Alicia’s family fled from political turmoil in Argentina, known as the 7-year Dirty War, which targeted left-wing dissidents. Thousands of people were left dead or missing, including students at the former high school Alicia attended – arriving in New York City, she rallied with the community of immigrants where she lived.

After majoring in molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University, Alicia worked in the community, including working on immigrant rights at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Her lived experience provided a context for community activism, as well as her choice to go into medicine and eventually work at UCSF and the San Francisco General Hospital as an attending physician and health services researcher. Alicia says “inquiry has always had a personal meaning, allowing me to connect clinical medicine to the social justice work I’ve always done.”

Currently, Alicia’s research focuses on immigrant and Latino health, health disparities, global health interventions, mentoring and teaching. Her experiences in community engagement provided her with the foundation to understand health disparities, tackle them and serve vulnerable populations. Now, she says, “over the last several years, a lot of my work is in education, too. I’m interested in how to teach disparities.” Teaching the next generation is one of the aspects of SF BUILD that brought Alicia to the project. In particular, she has been interested in understanding and teaching how to frame health challenges like diabetes: “Usually diabetes is framed as an individual’s problem, a choice, rather than a community problem. I want to reframe chronic disease as a community issue, starting with families,” she said.

Alicia has invested countless hours on formal and informal mentoring, and providing welcoming environments for faculty, students and other mentees. One of Alicia’s goals for SF BUILD is to “help students become a great mentee. Part of what we’re doing [in SF BUILD] is making the unwritten rules more apparent and enhancing people’s ability to deal with what are ultimately complex and often intimidating environments.” She is committed to the work of SF BUILD and enjoys the opportunity to connect and share her experiences to aspiring researchers. “I think my life is much richer because I’ve been able to combine research with teaching with clinical work," she said. "Those things are very synergistic; they’re not separated in me. I love all of those aspects of my job.”




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