Main content
Emory Farmworker Project beneficiary shares story with PA graduates
 Jodie Guest and Erick Martínez Juárez

Emory professor Jodie Guest and Erick Martínez Juárez, keynote speaker for the PA Class of 2022's Commencement, pose with graduates at the Dec. 16 ceremony.

Erick Martínez Juárez has always been smart and inquisitive. As the second child of migrant farmworkers in the tiny town of Attapulgus, Georgia, his second-grade teacher recognized his keen intelligence and tested him for the county-wide gifted program, where he flourished and saw for the first time a world full of possibilities that he did not know existed. 

Count this as one of many experiences that inspired Juárez to both excel and dream big, and which ultimately led him to graduate as valedictorian of Bainbridge High School’s Class of 2010. He enrolled at West Point and then Harvard University, where he graduated with a BA in neurobiology. He went on to earn his medical degree at the Medical College of Georgia, and most recently joined the neurology residency program at UCLA. 

With accomplishments like these, it is no wonder that Jodie Guest, associate director of the Emory Physician Assistant Program and senior vice chair in the Department of Epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health, invited Juárez to address the School of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Class of 2022 on Dec. 16 as its December Commencement speaker.

Erick Martínez Juárez

Erick Martínez Juárez is now a neurology resident at UCLA. He plans to return to Georgia to practice medicine and advocate for the Latinx and farmworker communities.

However, this is not the only reason. Guest and Juárez know each other through the Emory Farmworker Project (EFP), which Guest leads. The EFP is the Physician Assistant Program’s hallmark service-learning program that provides free health care to more than 2,000 farmworkers and their families each year. Juárez and his family regularly received their health care through the EFP. 

Juárez’s parents, Maricela and Loreto, migrated to the United States from Mexico in the mid-1980s in search of better opportunities for themselves and their future family of five children. Having been born into poverty with only a few years of primary school between them, the couple only had their strong work ethic and a will to succeed when they arrived in this country. And they have been successful, working to support their family and raising five accomplished children. In addition to Juárez, their four other children have successful careers or are currently enrolled in college working toward their career goals.

When Maricela and Loreto first arrived in the United States, they worked fields in North Carolina and South Florida before settling in Georgia, first in Attapulgus and then Bainbridge. Without health insurance or easy geographical access to health care services, they depended heavily on the EFP for free health and dental services.

Begun in 1996, the EFP is an interprofessional effort involving more than 200 students, clinicians, interpreters and logistics volunteers who come together each summer and fall to provide innovative, culturally appropriate health care services to migrant farmworkers in pop-up clinics in South Georgia.

“My family’s experience with the EFP has been remarkably positive, as demonstrated by my parents’ utilization of its services year in and year out. My parents have spread the word about the EFP to other farmworker friends over the years. In light of the local, and now national, recognition of my achievements and efforts over the past decade, many of the EFP providers, staff and volunteers have come to recognize my parents during EFP events, so this has made the EFP all the more welcoming to them,” Juárez says. 

While Juárez and his four siblings eventually received health insurance through Medicaid, watching his parents receive their care through the EFP left a big impression on him. Seeing the clinicians treating and helping his parents and friends from his community provided him with the idea of a career he could envision for himself. 

“The EFP planted the seed of inspiration for my eventual decision to pursue a career in medicine. I wrote about my encounters with the EFP as a patient and then as a volunteer in both my medical school and residency applications,” he says.

Coming full circle 

Delivering the Physician Assistant Program’s Commencement speech was a full-circle moment for Juárez.  

“From being a patient of the EFP, to being the son of EFP beneficiaries, to being a volunteer, and to now being a symbolic hero of the EFP, I am honored and blessed to speak on behalf of many farmworkers and those who come from underprivileged roots like me. I am thrilled to be able to share remarks with the next generation of health care heroes in front of the folks who made it happen and who inspire me every day: my parents,” he says.

Notes Guest, “We are so thrilled to have an accomplished, caring young physician like Dr. Juárez speak at the Physician Assistant Program’s Commencement. His story is inspiring, as is the way he shares his successes with his parents and family. As he soars, he honors where he comes from and gives back to his community. 

“He is an excellent example of living a life with great purpose. His aspirations to care for and fight for underserved communities like the one in which he was raised is inspiring, and I am thrilled our students were able to hear from him.” 

The 51 December 2022 PA graduates were fortunate to be able to hear from Juárez as he will no doubt continue to excel and accomplish great things that honor his family and benefit his community, Guest says.

After he completes his residency program and then perhaps a subspecialty through a fellowship program, Juárez plans to return to Georgia to practice medicine and advocate for the Latinx and farmworker communities with the goal of mitigating the effects of health disparities. Juárez says that entering politics is also a possibility, which means many more Georgians could one day benefit from his talents. 

“Regardless of what comes next for Dr. Juárez,” Guest says, “his accomplishments provide more evidence that investments like the EFP can reap big gains, not only for the underserved communities they serve, but for us all.”

Recent News