How to build a successful life in America: insights from a community health educator

Pedro Ramirez, director of the Multicultural Health Awareness and Prevention Center

Pedro Ramirez, director of the Multi-Cultural Health Awareness and Prevention Center

By Cecile Caguingin-Ochoa

The list of his achievements as the first Filipino American director of a thriving Multicultural Health Awareness and Prevention (MHAP) Center at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles goes beyond five pages.

“The most important of these are those that link me with bringing services to the marginalized sector of the society, be it here in the U.S. or the Philippines,” said Pedro Ramirez, who immigrated to this country in 2002.

How did he reach the peak of his career in barely 10 years in this second-largest urban area in the nation?

Know your passion and follow it, said the community advocate with a pleasant disposition.

With a college degree and a passion for community organizing, Pedro — hardly two months in the city — knocked on the doors of the first hospital in L.A. established in 1863. They were looking for a coordinator for a women’s health project.

The statistics, he found out, was shocking. The second cause of death of Filipino women in the U.S. is breast cancer. He is more than familiar with outreach strategies.

Know your strength and dare to tell people about it. That’s a second element of coming to a fruitful career.

“With no medical background at all, I spoke to the hospital administration, requested them to review my resume and pointed to my experience in the field of community health services among the indigents of my country.”

Hospital administrators were impressed with the experience that he could possibly bring over. He got the job.

A few years back, he had combed the streets of Metro Manila and threw a huge safety net to gather the street children, leaving a successful career as Project Operations manager of a government-accredited program “Haligi ng Bata.”

To date, this program still serves the needs for skills training of thousands of impoverished children in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, La Union and Bacolod leading to economic sufficiency. “It broke my heart to see children looking in on Jollibee’s windows; their life wish was to attend a Jollibee birthday party.”

Another key element in searching for a meaningful career: gather comprensive information about your desired field.

“There’s the web and the Internet but that is secondary to being in touch with those whose lives you would like to touch. Taking lessons from his community organizing days, he scoured L.A. looking for information about its demographics.

He quickly learned about the city’s class layers by first taking a low-paying but client-oriented job, in a gas station when he first arrived. As a former activist in Metro Manila, he was interested to connect with the man-on-the-street; the best place to find him (her) was at a gas station.

As an organizer, he launched his “social investigation” by talking to customers – rich, poor, old, young, men, and women, able-bodied, disabled. They all bought gas whatever their economic status was. He got their stories, the needs of the big city.

At St. Vincent’s he studied the service plan area of the metropolis or the 13 zip codes key to the metro LA area; then he linked up with critical resources to the Filipino American residents. The Historic Filipino Town, the Pilipino Workers Center, the Philippine Consulate, among other organizations.

A survey implemented in these areas showed that many Filipino American women didn’t participate in early screening programs. Then there’s their cultural and religious upbringing that dissuade them from participating. “Bahala na ang Diyos.”

The Women’s Project in St. Vincent’s thrives today with various free community health fairs in many aspects of L.A., from South Central Los Angeles Ministry project to monthly community Women’s Health Forum and Services that includes mammography screening, glucose/diabetes screening, and HIV screening. These projects service the communities other than Filipinos covering 10 consulate offices in the city.

As director of MHAP, Pedro is assisted in his tasks by a staff of eight from the local Korean, Thai, El Salvadorians and Filipino communities.
He does, humbly, enjoy receiving awards and recognitions from groups and individuals that his program has serviced through these years from the L.A. City Council, Lions Club, “Hospital Hero” from St. Vincent’s, to name a few.

Pedro has organized five medical missions to the Philippines, bringing doctors and volunteers to some of the most isolated and impoverished areas of the islands. He is currently the co-founder/organizer of the Comprehensive Cancer Care Coalition in Los Angeles. He serves as a member of the Advisory Council of the West Coast University and the Worksite Wellness in L.A. In March he received the 2014, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles Community Award at the Biltmore Hotel.

“Lastly, try to not become a person of success but a person of value, to paraphrase Einstein. Value to me means following a mission from God, a mission with no end,” he smiled.

The MHAP center that Pedro heads is one of St. Vincent Medical Center’s key community outreach and benefit programs that focuses on health education, disease prevention, early detection and information and referral services for high-risk ethnic communities including Korean, Latino, Filipino and Chinese and other vulnerable populations in the central Los Angeles area. This program reflects St. Vincent’s long tradition of providing care for low- income and underserved adults, children and families in the surrounding communities. MHAP’s outreach is a cornerstone of the medical center’s mission to serve the poor in the timeless tradition of the Daughters of Charity.

'Know your passion and follow it.'

‘Know your passion and follow it.’

red line


  1. Ronald Kessel wrote:

    We are so Proud Of you. You serve as a Good example to us all Filipinos on how to achieved our Goals and dreams. More power to you and your Cause.
    May God Bless you with Long life so you can have the chance to help more Under Privilage peole not only in Los Angels but also to the rest of the world.


Leave a Reply for admin