What was my biggest obstacle?
While at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the only Hispanic in my class, I struggled with holding onto my sense of self and identity, My biggest obstacles were isolation, distance from family and friends and lack of a role model and mentor. I could not share my experiences with those I cared about most. I am the oldest, the first to graduate college as well as the first and only doctor in my family. I did not have anyone who was like me, at home or at medical school, nor did I feel that I belonged.
My class was filled with sons and daughters of chairmen, heads of departments and most of the time I questioned my place at Pittsburgh. I was ill prepared for not being able to be myself and having no room in my life for anything but my next series of exams or rotations. There were no occasions to speak Spanish, no specific Latino activities to attend, not even Salsa music to listen to. (Despite this, I left Pittsburgh well prepared for residency in the Bronx and cherish the friendships made there.)
During this time, my family was having challenges of their own: My father's business was in jeopardy and, knowing this, it became difficult for me to concentrate. To magnify the issue further, my family did not want to distract me from my studies or my goals so I was left out of the family decisions. Little did my family realize that in doing so, they took away what mattered most to me. This was a pivotal point in my life. It marked when my role in the family shifted. I became the one to protect and no longer the one to come to, to solve issues. My mom had made a comment "since you left, home has not been the same." I knew then, changes for me had indeed changed everyone in the process as well.
My biggest obstacle today is finding the balance between my family and my career. The challenges mount daily against women achieving what societal norms allow our male counterparts to do without worry. Worry about the implications for their family at home, about raising children and nurturing their emotional needs, and about whether they are underpaid or well respected. The medical field is no different, despite the fact that nearly half of new entrants into medical schools are female. I am most fortunate in this regard; I have a loving and supportive husband who shares in my commitment to our family, community, and to making a difference. I do not have to choose, but I do carry my guilt.
How do I make a difference?
My contribution to my life's work is being able to provide my patients the opportunity to expose parts of themselves kept private from everyone, sometimes even from themselves, fearing judgment or criticism. Sharing in those moments of discovery with the patient and their familiesduring times of triumphs and tribulations that affirm the human spirit and the power of faithtranslates into what I believe is the art of healing. What others call the dying art of medicine. Today for me it translates into the art of listening and a conviction for advocacy and activism. A visit to your doctor should be much more than an expectation for a prescription. It is an opportunity for mentorship, raising of consciousness, and kinship.
Who was my mentor?
My first mentor was my mother. I was 6 and she was 18 and she was my study partner, not having been afforded the opportunity to attend school herself. My achievements were her achievements. We worked on assignments together until I completed eighth grade. Little did I know that we were teaching one another. She was my rooting section and taught me early that in order to achieve I had to believe in myself, take pride in all my actions, and keep true to myself. Not to allow the definition of others and society to prescribe for me. Challenged me to love myself especially important when others wanted to know when I would marry and wondered what else could be so important. My mother also made sure that our family pediatrician was a woman. Dr. Llano was an unassuming, gentle, caring physician who I wanted to be just like. I continued under her care until I was past adolescence and could no longer fit on the waiting room chairs of the I SPY clinic at Beth Israel Hospital on 14th Street. I remembered not wanting to lose the connection. I didn't have any other role models at that time and would not until my involvement with ASPIRA and health career opportunities programs during my undergraduate years.