First Generations: Empowering Minorities in Medicine
By: Carolina Ruiz
When it comes to challenges in education, there are many different levels students can face. Some face the lack of network, some the lack of funds, some the lack of all. Growing up, one of the biggest challenges I witnessed was that of being a first-generation student. These were the students whose parents never attended college, didn’t have an institutional degree, and even in some cases, were not born in America to know how the education system works.
I fell into the last category.
There are many levels to being a first generation, and those who are the children of immigrants understand the various barriers there are to cross.
For those students who understand the struggles I speak of, your voices are heard. The barriers can seem endless and overwhelming, but when it comes down to it, every barrier makes for a persevering student, particularly when we speak of those who are pursuing a career in medicine.
First and foremost, one of the hardest challenges faced is that of a language barrier. My parents, like many others, came to this country not knowing any English. Growing up, one of my first responsibilities was to teach my parents English, while they taught me our native language of Spanish. The sad truth about this is that many parents like mine never fully understood the language in the way we, the students, would hope for. Whether it be ceremonies celebrating our achievements, speeches allotted to us for our merit, or simply explaining the opportunities we’ve gained, miscommunication is inevitable. It’s a frustrating factor of life we have learned to accept. For those students who have felt this way in their lives I say, you are resilient and even if you can’t receive the level of praise you desire, remember that recognizing your own hard work is most important.
To those students who have not experienced these challenges, I say put it into perspective. Think back to the moments when you had the chance to sit down with a table full of family members, exchanging stories, exchanging memories, learning about the different fields others have pursued. In the life of a first-generation child of immigration, this is the goal. We dream of the day we’ll have a full table of family surrounding us to exchange stories of the days we went to college, to look back at the different professionals we’ve become. To those students who have felt this way in life, I say hold on to that dream. Keep pursuing your future, keep seeking those opportunities that will open new doors, and never forget to hold on to that dream because of every sacrifice you’ve endured.
Needless to say, one of the biggest struggles any student faces is constant doubt. With no connections or possible professional mentors, this doubt grows. There is no proper guidance to tell us if we’re on the right path or if we should be doing more for our career. The extent of career advice my parents have been able to provide for me is that they believe in me. As first generations, we are the ones who are creating a precedent for future generations. Ultimately, it lies within our hands to find the future we want.
For the students who have experienced these feelings, I write this post.
There are many moments when we doubt if choosing medicine is the right path or if we have the capability of seeing it through, especially since the only guidance present is our own.
To that I say, let the worry go.
There is a need for diversity in every field of medicine, and there will always be a place for you if you’re willing to work for it. The challenges may prove to be harder in our situation, but this is what makes us build and grow in resilience as students. Never forgetting the capabilities we hold is what makes the difference.
Below I outlined a number of opportunities available to my fellow premed students struggling under current conditions. Specifically, I hope to help my fellow minority, first-generation students in growth and empowerment. There’s so much more to what you have now – go out and find it!
- Virtual Shadowing Program (https://virtualshadowing.com/) – a virtual shadowing program available for students to learn more about the different paths physicians had into pursuing their career.
- Webshadowers (https://webshadowers.wixsite.com/website) – virtual shadowing seminars available through youtube live, ranging from the perspectives of different healthcare professionals such as physicians, medical students, surgeons, etc.
- Clubmed (https://linktr.ee/clubmedshu) – a non-profit organization offering virtual shadowing and volunteering opportunities.
- International Society of Pre-Health Researchers (https://msha.ke/ispr/) – ISPR aims at bringing fellow college students who are interested in medical research together – a great networking and leadership opportunity for anyone seeking a position.
- Volunteering with American Red Cross (https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.html) – volunteer opportunities with emergency response teams and Blood Center Aids.