Luis Godoy

UC Davis surgeon recognized nationally for commitment to diversity in medicine

Luis Armando Godoy awarded AAMC Herbert W. Nickens Faculty Fellowship for his community service and fighting inequities


UC Davis Health thoracic surgeon Luis Armando Godoy’s path to medicine has been filled with adversities. An immigrant from a small Mexican village, he went from a farmworker picking stone fruit alongside his parents to working as an assistant professor at the UC Davis School of Medicine. His experiences along the way, including becoming a father while in high school, helped to shape his desire to fight inequities and promote diversity in medicine.

In recognition of his outstanding efforts to support students from underserved backgrounds, Godoy has been awarded The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Herbert W. Nickens Faculty Fellowship. He received the national recognition yesterday at the AAMC annual conference in Seattle. The award recognizes leadership in fighting inequities in medical practice and education.

Godoy’s journey offers great insight on how to address inequality in medical education and promote the health care of underserved populations.

Inspiring journey from farmland to operating theater

Godoy was born in Tacatzcuaro, Michoacán, a small village in rural Mexico. His family migrated to California when he was five years old. In Northern California, he worked with his parents on farms in Suisun Valley, picking peaches and nectarines. He had to drop out of high school temporarily to avoid gangs and bullying.

Graduation days
Godoy was a young father when he graduated high school in 1997 (left). His wife Rita and two kids celebrated his graduation from UC Davis in 2008 (right)

“Ashamed of being a farmworker, afraid of being bullied and teased, I fell into one of the most prevalent social scripts that affects my community. I foolishly joined a gang. They were respected and feared, they were accepting and welcoming, and made me feel like I belonged,” Godoy said about that time in his life.

He became a father while he was a senior in high school. His new responsibilities motivated him to work harder and finish school. Despite working three jobs — as a construction worker, cook and car mechanic — he managed to graduate high school on time.

After high school he worked as a medical assistant. Being bilingual, one of his duties was to interpret for Spanish-speaking patients. By communicating with them in their native language, he was able to address their needs, concerns and fears.

He described his experience as a medical assistant: “It lit a fire within me to pursue a career in medicine. It showed me the importance of the doctor’s hands and heart in treating patients.”

Godoy decided to pursue his dream of becoming a physician. He enrolled at Solano Community College then transferred to UC Davis in 2006. At UC Davis, he completed his undergraduate education and a post-baccalaureate program.

Godoy is holding a UC Davis banner in his two hands on his match day. Someone in the background is cheering and clapping.
Godoy at the 2014 Match Day ceremony, where he learned that he would be doing his residency at UC Davis

In 2012, he was accepted into the UC Davis School of Medicine, where he also finished his residency in Cardiothoracic Surgery. As a medical student, he was recognized with multiple awards and honors. In 2013, the UC Davis School of Medicine inducted him into the Gold Humanism Honor Society for his excellence in clinical care, leadership and service to his community. He went on to receive the Outstanding Medical Student in Surgery Award and Dr. Gabriel Smilkstein Humanitarian Award. As a resident, Godoy was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society.

In 2020, Godoy graduated from the Integrated Cardiothoracic Surgery program at UC Davis. After graduation, he was recruited as faculty in cardiothoracic surgery at UC Davis School of Medicine. Godoy is now an assistant professor of thoracic surgery and the Diversity and Inclusion director in the Department of Surgery. He is also an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Internal Medicine and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dr. Godoy and another person wearing blue scrubs, masks and head cover while operating in the theater of an operating room.
Dr. Godoy in the operating room

“I knew from the first moment that I walked into the operating room that this is where I was meant to be. All my life’s experiences of working with my hands, repairing and restoring the broken had led me to that point,” Godoy said.

Over the years, Godoy has won numerous awards for his teaching, mentorship and professionalism. He has received the UC Davis Excellence in Faculty Teaching Award and the Outstanding Cardiothoracic Surgery Faculty Member Award. Godoy was also awarded the prestigious UC Davis University Medal of Distinction. This prestigious award is bestowed upon an individual who shows the very highest levels of distinction, personal achievement and contributions to the ideals of higher education.

Helping first-generation college students pursue medicine

Godoy believes that diversity in the medical field is a matter of health and well-being. For this reason, he has proudly served as a mentor to undergraduate students, especially first-generation college students — the first to go to college in their families — and those from disadvantaged communities.

“The only way we can provide adequate care to patients of all backgrounds is to educate ourselves on different cultures and health issues, both through training, exposure and education,” Godoy said. “We also know that a diverse medical workforce leads to better patient care, outcomes and trainee education.”

He was actively involved in the inception and support of the Preparando Estudiantes Para Ser Medicos (or Prep Médico) program. The summer program for pre-medical and medical students provides scholarships, mentorship, internships, residential programs, volunteer opportunities and hands-on clinical experiences.

“Prep Médico mainly targets first and second-year community college pre-medical students in Northern California and the Central Valley. The goal is to diversify the medical community and increase the number of physicians dedicated to addressing health disparities faced by Hispanic communities,” Godoy explained.

A man and woman walking between two rows of trees. Man is wearing a white shirt, necktie and a dark pants. Woman is wearing a black jacket and black pants. There is a mountain range in the background.
Godoy walking with his mother in Suisun Valley

In the Fall of 2021, Godoy also co-founded the nonprofit organization It is an online community that hosts weekly events for pre-medical students attending California community colleges. These colleges serve about 2.5 million students a year, 76% of whom are ethnic minorities.

“Around 60% of California community college students are the first in their families to get a college degree, just like myself. They tend to face unique obstacles and typically lack access to quality academic advising, health care professionals, mentorship and overall financial stability,” Godoy noted.

Godoy has also worked with the UCLA Center for Community College Partnership, which helps community college transfer students prepare academically, especially those who are first-generation, low-income and from underrepresented communities.

About the Herbert W. Nickens Faculty Fellowship and Godoy’s project

The Herbert W. Nickens Faculty Fellowship award recognizes an outstanding faculty member who:

  • Demonstrates leadership potential in addressing inequity in medical education and health care.
  • Shows efforts in addressing educational, societal and health care needs of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States.
  • Is committed to a career in academic medicine.
Andres Maldonado

Read about Andrés Maldonado, a UC Davis medical student who was also honored by the AAMC for his diversity efforts.

Medical student receives national award for diversity efforts

“Dr. Godoy’s leadership and extraordinary commitment to furthering diversity, equity and inclusion in education and society have been evident throughout his journey at UC Davis as an undergraduate, medical student, resident and faculty member,” wrote Susan Murin, interim dean of UC Davis School of Medicine. “His drive and tireless work in this vital area not only honors Dr. Herbert W. Nickens’ legacy but will make a meaningful impact advancing health equity.”

With this award, Godoy will work on a project that directly addresses trainee and workforce diversity disparities.

“It is more important than ever to have a diverse physician workforce who looks like all the different types of patients we take care of, including different genders and different races,” Godoy said.

He will implement a comprehensive program that he hopes will strengthen the pipeline of medical students from underrepresented communities. This includes giving students and trainees more exposure to the surgical field. The program will also promote a climate of inclusion for current surgical residents by incorporating discussions about surgical practice, health care disparities and social justice into training.

“I have traveled a nontraditional path, one that has taught me valuable lessons about healthcare disparities, social inequalities, poverty and racism. More importantly, I have learned more about strength, resilience, grit, gratitude and hope,” Godoy said.  

Five standing individuals smiling to the camera. Dr. Godoy (second from left) is holding his rectangular glass award. Andrés Maldonado (is second from right) is holding his star-shaped glass award. Interim Dean Susan Murin (in the center) is wearing a red short and a long black skirt.
UC Davis Associate Dean for Students Sharad Jain, Director of Diversity and Inclusion in the Department of Surgery Luis Godoy, Interim Dean of UC Davis School of Medicine Susan Murin, winner of Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship Andrés Maldonado and Associate Dean for Diverse and Inclusive Learning Communities Jorge Garcia at the AAMC award ceremony on Nov. 6, 2023.

Godoy and his wife Rita have been together for 27 years — since their junior year in high school. She is his life’s companion. Sitting with her in the large conference room, waiting to receive his award, he paused to reflect on not only his own journey, but that of his parents.

“Reflecting on my parents’ journey from when they migrated to the United States with me and my sisters and thinking like wow, their hopes and dreams of a better life for their children — I wonder if this is what they had in mind. I'm sure it's way above and beyond what they ever expected, and it just gives me this immense sense of pride in that, and not just that, but in what the award really means,” Godoy said.

Learn more about Godoy’s extraordinary journey in this full circle video.