“What is your name? What day is it? Do you know what happened to you?” The confused stare on the patient’s face led the doctor to believe she was non-responsive. “Epilepsy may cause neural degeneration” he began explaining to the residents, “and these are some medications we could prescribe.” Something told me his diagnosis was wrong. “I think she speaks Spanish, sir,” I interrupted. With a look of confusion, he asked me to translate his questions. Immediately her face lit up. “My name is Teresa. It’s July 5th. I had a seizure at the park.” My first shadowing experience of SMDEP, when I became the voice of the woman who didn’t have one, was the day I decided I had to become a doctor.
Growing up in a Latino household, I personally knew the challenges of accessing healthcare were real for my community. Issues of insurance, documentation status, and in this case, language barriers, were what I both studied in school and saw in my community. Now and then, I reflect on the time I spent growing up in the free clinic where my mother worked as a medical assistant, which was packed daily with low-income Spanish-speakers. She came home exhausted every day, but always with stories of how she resonated with the nuanced health experiences of these patients. Her dedication to her community is one I now hope to emulate as I see medicine as the best way in which I could use my knowledge to work for, and alongside, a community I care so deeply about.
SMDEP was an unforgettable experience, not solely for the academic preparation, but because it cultivates a community of people who understand the health issues in the communities they come from, and, like me, want to work to correct them. Many of my fellow students were also the first in their families to go to college. Many came from low-income backgrounds or were from a race or ethnicity that isn’t commonly seen in medicine. When I recounted the story of Teresa to my classmates, they responded with the same recommitment to serve the underserved as I did. It was my first chance to be among like-minded peers who, despite not being represented in medicine, were dedicated to earn an MD for the sake of their communities.
Studying medicine is a journey full of ups and down, twists and turns. It can be especially difficult when, all around you, physicians don’t “look” like you or understand your background. In my case, it was difficult to see a physician blatantly misunderstand a fellow Spanish-speaker. In these moments of doubt I think back my community that was cultivated at SMDEP, to the students fighting to become represented in medicine by staying up all night perfecting resonance structures and prepping for journal club. We spent time asking the important questions in public health class, studying the essential Biology needed to understand the body, and, more importantly, walking Yale’s medical campus talking about our dreams and imagining our futures. Even today, when tasks seem too daunting, I am grounded by the community of SMDEP scholars I now know exist, that come together, yearly, at 12 different medical schools to reaffirm “I will one day study here, but I will never forget from where I came.”
Today, Mr. Cruz is a research associate in the Department of Neurology at Yale School of Medicine.