POWER OF THE PACK

The UNM Foundation: Our Stories of Impact

Now Is the Time

Physician’s Endowed Scholarship Supports First-year Medical Students From Northern New Mexico
By Michelle G. McRuiz

The past two-and-a-half years have given people ample time to think about what’s truly valuable in life: what to bring to fruition, what to leave behind, and how to make a mark on the world.

When Linda Romero, MD, reflected on her life, she realized it was time to put a long-held wish into motion: to help ease the financial burden for medical students. “Sometimes you just stop and think about things,” Romero says. “Both of my parents recently died, and that is what moved me to say, ‘Now is the time.’”

Romero, who completed her residency in family medicine at The University of New Mexico School of Medicine in 1985, has established the Dr. Linda J. Romero Endowed Scholarship in Medicine. Her scholarship will support first-year medical students at UNM who graduated from a public high school in Taos, Rio Arriba, or Mora County. Each year, the scholarship will go to a different eligible student.

Romero grew up in Questa, a village north of Taos. “It’s still a village,” Romero says with a laugh. “Now there’s a traffic light there.”

She loved living in rural northern New Mexico, and the peace still pulled at her. “I love the fresh air, the sounds of the animals, rivers, and streams,” she says. “When I go there now, I just relax.”

As a child, Romero had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. An avid reader in a town with only a school library closed in the summer, Romero ordered books for 50 cents apiece through the mail and haunted the lone book rack at the grocery store. She especially liked reading about health and disease.

When she turned 15, she started thinking about becoming a doctor and became obsessed with learning about her college options. “I looked into nursing and other health careers,” Romero says, “but I settled on becoming a doctor because I would have to go to school for a long time.”

Money was tight. Every college in New Mexico offered Romero a scholarship, but the two-year College of Eastern Utah offered her the best financial aid package: a scholarship, a grant, and work-study – no loans. “I went to college on a Greyhound bus with $200,” Romero recalled. After completing her bachelor’s degree in microbiology at Weber State College, she attended the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City.

After completing her family medicine residency, Romero’s first job was serving as medical director for a UNM clinic for unhoused people. She then joined the UNM School of Medicine faculty.

Romero pictured herself becoming a small-town doctor, perhaps in Questa, and when a position in her hometown became available, she applied for and got the job. But life had other plans. Her daughter, then just under two years old, became ill and needed significant care. Romero chose to stay in Albuquerque and continued working at UNM, even after her daughter recovered.

She enjoyed her academic work at UNM, writing grants, researching, publishing papers, and achieving tenure. Before retiring in 2015 as associate professor emeritus, she spent five years as the medical director for a senior health clinic.

Romero kept busy with international volunteer work for a few years but missed face-to-face patient contact. In 2014 she became a certified diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, and in 2017 she opened her weight-management clinic. She worked diligently to build every aspect of the business from the ground up and managed everything herself.

“I wanted it to be an official medical practice,” Romero says, “not the ‘corner joint.’” But it was much more than managing a business. “I enjoy sitting across from a patient, talking to them, and coming up with a solution,” she said. Her clinic is now in its sixth year.

Before retirement, Romero began training for and running marathons to raise money for cancer awareness and research, an activity she still pursues. She also made gifts to Ronald McDonald House in appreciation for the resources it offers to families with critically ill children. And, remembering her financial challenges as a student, she wanted to do more.

“I would never have been able to make it through school without scholarships, grants, and work-study,” she said. “I worked hard and did everything I was supposed to do. I remember thinking that someday I would give back.”

The Linda J. Romero Endowed Scholarship in Medicine focuses on northern New Mexico for a few reasons.

 “Those counties are economically disadvantaged,” Romero says. “There are young students who need resources to help bring them forward. I want to be a resource to somebody out there who is looking. Somebody is thinking about them.”

Stories of ImpactNow Is the Time