This blog is in reference to a question asked to the physician panel dealing with the challenges of being a minority physician. Challenges come from all sources. At home, pursing a medical degree has challenged the notion that only manual labor is “hard work”. My parents would often say, “you are not even breaking a sweat”, in an attempt to compare studying for a test (insert MCAT, USMLE, COMLEX) with manual labor. It took years, but parents have come to realize that obtaining formal training, acquiring knowledge and skills is “hard-work”, incomparable to manual labor, yet equally as draining. Overcoming the misconception of “hard work” was a familial milestone, which has made it easier for my siblings to have better parental support system.
Another challenge is the social burden that friends and family place on us. At first family is supportive, especially when you are the first to graduate from high school, college and eventually medical school. In the Latino community patience wears thin quick, especially during family gatherings. It would hit a social nerve with my parents, when my extended relatives would ask when I was getting married, buying a house or making grandbabies. The issue is compounded if your parents buy into this social nonsense. Word of advice: hold the fort! More than once, I had to remind my family that my career was “many years” in the making. It has been difficult to make my family believe that there is a “right time” to acquire debt or have children. The problem with economically disadvantaged families like mine, is that attaining any social mobility now is by far better than waiting, preparing and attaining more years later. Your support system must understand that becoming a physician is at least an 11 year commitment, and that you will be financially stable then, not at any time before. My physician mentor is my parents primary care provider, and she has reinforced the concept that a career in medicine is years in the making. At times, family needs to hear this from various sources. Please don’t shy away from having your mentors, friends or colleagues reinforce this concept to your loved ones, as it definitely helps that it is heard from more than one source.
Lately, my greatest challenge has been maintaining the commitment to the factors that drove me to pursue a career in medicine. As the son of undocumented parents, I experienced the difficulties of not having access to healthcare. Now I volunteer every Tuesday night at the student run health clinic that caters to the uninsured. Volunteering is emotionally gratifying and allows me to continue with my commitment towards helping the underserved, yet balancing with the opportunity of making more money, moonlighting, can be tempting. Money can lure, especially when you have been without an income for years! Thus far, I think the right decision has been made. I continue to volunteer, but am also aware that opportunities will challenge my value system.