I never thought much about my story, let alone how sharing it would benefit anyone. Among the thousands of applicants to medical school, I was just another one in the stack. I was more or less aware of the impact others have had on me, but never fully understood the impact I potentially have had on others, consciously or subconsciously. It wasn’t until I placed myself in context, getting my head out of the books and my body in the clinics, that I became cognizant of the direct and indirect effects of my identity and its possible role in health outcomes.
This semester, my peers and I were slowly acclimated to clinical medicine via weekly preceptorships. It was through this experience that I was introduced to one of my very first patients. Upon entering the room, my first impressions were of an elderly male who was alert, cooperative yet hesitant. His reserved demeanor quickly evaporated when he registered that my name Luis, was a name of familiarity and recognition. Immediately engaged, he began speaking in Spanish, expressing confusion as to why he was in the hospital. Through our conversation, I learned that when he nodded in response to questions from other providers, he did so because he did not know how to convey or reciprocate an answer in English. He was not made aware of interpreter services.
I was in shock. How could have we failed someone for this long? Our discussion lasted for over an hour. What was intended to be a complete history and physical evolved into an exchange of our favorite home remedies including, but not limited to the infamous Vicks Vapor Rub, soothing Caldo, or that cold, calming citrus burst from a sip of Sprite. The encounter did not result in a diagnosis or adjustments in medical management, but rather a reminder of the importance of representation, with its influence reaching far beyond any curative therapy. When patients see parts of themselves reflected in those providing care (and vice-versa), we as caregivers not only begin to understand, but also a sense of what it means to be understood. Our shared culture often gives us valuable insight into the experiences of those we aim to help.
With a demographic landscape that is rapidly changing, an increasing emphasis of building a diverse workforce has been made a priority by many. However, this call for visibility often reduces diversity to statistics, quotas, or even a hashtag, negating the very experiences that have informed our relationships and interactions with others. Diversity is not a trending topic or a flavor of the month, it is a reality shared day-in and day-out by millions.
Our narratives matter. Embrace what makes you you because you never know when you’ll be making a connection with your own patient who will be comforted by seeing a little bit of themselves in you.
About Luis Seija
Luis is a native of Austin, Texas, and one of the loudest and proudest members of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of 2019 at Texas A&M University College of Medicine. He is a breakfast taco enthusiast, dog lover, classical trombonist and minority issues advocate. You can follow Luis on Instagram @luiz_sayha.