Dr. Lilia Cervantes, winner of the 2024 Bernard Lown Award!

Dr. Lilia Cervantes

The Bernard Lown Award for Social Responsibility, created in honor of Dr. Lown after his death in 2021, recognizes young clinicians who stand out for their bold leadership in social justice, environmentalism, global peace, or other humanitarian efforts.

The Lown Institute is proud to present Lilia Cervantes, M.D. with the 2024 Bernard Lown Award for Social Responsibility, for her exceptional work advancing health equity and expanding access to care for undocumented immigrants. (press release)

Dr. Cervantes is the Director of Immigrant Health and a professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Inspired by the tragic loss of her patient and friend, Dr. Cervantes has spent her career advocating for equitable kidney health care for undocumented immigrants. Her advocacy and work helped spark significant policy changes in her home state of Colorado, which then led to other states expanding their provision of dialysis care.

See the timeline below to learn more about Dr. Cervantes’ life and accomplishments.

REGISTER: 2024 BLASR Ceremony & Dinner
Join us on Thursday, June 6, in Boston, MA, as we celebrate Dr. Lilia Cervantes, winner of this year’s Bernard Lown Award for Social Responsibility.

Dr. Cervantes’ Story


Lilia Cervantes born at Denver Health

She is born on April 20th at the very same facility where she would later build her career.

Moves to Juarez, Mexico

Cervantes and her family move to Mexico until 1999 when she returns to Colorado to attend college.


Graduates from University of Colorado Boulder

Cervantes earns her B.S. in Molecular Biology.

Earns her medical degree

Dr. Cervantes graduates from University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus


Completes residency and becomes an assistant professor

Cervantes completes her Internal Medicine residency at University of Colorado Anschutz and becomes an assistant professor. During this time, she also launches and directs the Healthcare Interest Program at Denver Health. Soon after she wins both the President’s Diversity Award and Rosa Parks Award.

A patient death sparks her activism

Hilda Cortez, a patient with kidney disease, dies after her undocumented status prevents her from gaining access to the lifesaving dialysis treatment she needed. Her preventable death inspires Cervantes, who later said, “it was my duty, as her doctor and friend, to change health policy.” Pictured above is Cervantes at the altar put together to celebrate Hilda’s life.

Cervantes receives a grant from the  Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that allows her to investigate the problem through research and policy analysis.


Publishes groundbreaking research on undocumented immigrant access to dialysis

After becoming an associate professor in 2016, Cervantes continues her work to ensure equity in emergency dialysis. She publishes the first study examining access to dialysis  treatment among undocumented immigrants with kidney failure.

Continues to champion the cause of immigrant access to dialysis

In February, Cervantes publishes a qualitative study focusing on the burnout experienced by clinicians working with undocumented immigrants in need of dialysis.

In August, she is interviewed on CNN by chief health correspondent Sanjay Gupta on the issue of undocumented immigrants and emergency dialysis.


Successfully advocates for policy change

Almost 5 years after the death of Hilda Cortez, Cervantes’ leadership succeeds in driving Colorado to expand dialysis access for undocumented immigrants. Pictured above is Cervantes celebrating this win at home with her patients.

Cervantes is awarded the Inaugural Outstanding Service to the Community Award from Denver Health. She is also awarded the Florence Rena Sabin Award from the University of Colorado Anschutz.

Continues to advocate and earn attention for her work

Cervantes publishes “Dialysis in the Undocumented: Driving Policy Change with Data” in the Journal of Hospital Medicine. This piece earns her a finalist slot for the Folio Magazine Eddie Awards.

Cervantes wins the Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership Award from the Society of Hospital Medicine, which is presented at the Annual Conference.

Cervantes begins her Policy Fellowship with the National Hispanic Medical Association.

Cervantes is awarded the coveted Dr. Virgilio Licona Community Health Leadership Award after being nominated by the community. This annual award from the Colorado Health Foundation is the only award they give each year. Pictured above is Dr. Cervantes at the reception.


Continues publishing research and advocating for equitable care

Cervantes publishes multiple papers on the disparities faced by undocumented immigrants during the COVID-19 crisis, including Disproportionate Incidence of COVID-19 Infection, Hospitalizations, and Deaths Among Persons Identifying as Hispanic or Latino – Denver, Colorado March-October 2020 and Undocumented Immigrants and COVID-19A Call for Federally Funded Health Care.

Her efforts lead to the expansion of healthcare coverage for undocumented immigrants, as well as the expansion of the provision of home dialysis.

Presents as a keynote speaker for the National Kidney Foundation

Cervantes presents “Off the Sidelines and Into the Game: Engaging in Advocacy” as a keynote speaker for the National Kidney Foundation annual meeting. Her presentation included a call to action with tools to catalyze policy change.


Publishes a study documenting how policy change in Colorado impacted other states

She publishes “Access to Kidney Care for Undocumented Immigrants Across the US,” which illustrates that 5 additional states have expanded provision for standard outpatient dialysis for undocumented immigrants. The health policy change in Colorado had a domino effect throughout the country.

Inducted into the National Honor Society for Researchers

Cervantes is inducted into the National Honor Society for Researchers and is elected to membership in the American Society for Clinical Investigation for her work “driving policy change with data.” At the same time, another important policy change passed and increased the provision of healthcare for undocumented immigrants.

Pictured above is Dr. Cervantes; her mentee, Dr. Katie Rizzolo; and her mentor, Dr. Neil Powe, presenting their research to fellow doctors and academics.


Wins Bernard Lown Award for Social Responsibility

Dr. Cervantes wins the 2024 BLASR from the Lown Institute, including a $25,000 grant, for her exceptional work advancing health equity and expanding access to care for undocumented immigrants.