My name is Samantha Pinedo and I'm a first generation, Mexican American medical resident that just graduated as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine on May 14th, 2021 and began my family medicine residency in Washington this month.
As a child and into adolescence, I had no idea what kind of career I should pursue. No one in my immediate family was in the healthcare field, much less had gone to college. My first exposure to medicine was through a health professions program at my high school. There, I was to attend my core classes at the high school and take half days at the community college - to complete a Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN) program by the time I graduated high school.
If I’m being honest, what really drew me to the program was attending community college and the promise of a well-paying job in the summers. However, coursework made me realize that I loved the intersection of human sciences, anatomy and physiology, and patient care and that “this was the path for me,” I thought. I also have always had a profound love of learning, so while I had immense respect for the field of nursing after working as a nurse during the summers, I knew I wanted to study and practice beyond the scope of what a nursing program offered.
With little guidance in applying to colleges, I happened to end up at a university where the pre-health committee was robust and provided a lot of guidance to ensure I had the best chance of being accepted into medical school. It often felt like I had to work so much harder to achieve the same as some of my peers. I recognize that because of my background and first-generation experience, there were many things that were more difficult for me. It is the sort of thing I only realize now, in retrospect. It becomes almost glaring that as much as the unending support from my parents and absolutely working myself to the brink of exhaustion at every step, has contributed to achieving this goal, equal part divine intervention, or dumb luck if you’re not religious, was involved. I recognize that the fact that I stumbled upon this career and a good college for being pre-med nearly by accident is not readily convertible into concrete advice for others who wish to accomplish the same thing. But it is a reality that I think needs to be acknowledged. Given all of that, I would not give up any of it. My parents, though not college educated, are the smartest, most loyal, generous and honorable people in my life. And this is what I continue to strive to be when I grow up.
As a medical student you try on different specialties throughout clinical rotations and often pick-up certain qualities, techniques, or ways of explaining certain things to patients from the physicians that you admire. If you’re lucky, you find a mentor that makes you think, “if I become even half of the physician they are, I will have done good”. This physician is probably passionate, caring, smart, charismatic, a teacher, has great relationships with their patients, keeps up with the latest guidelines and research, and even has a great work-life balance.
For me, this doctor is one I worked with throughout my undergraduate years and I was now seeing their clinic patients as a fourth-year medical student. I was in a visit with a Hispanic patient for management of his chronic conditions. I asked him questions and he also had some questions. I answered while including some plain language pathology explanation of his underlying disease to enforce the importance of his medication. We spoke at length about how great his doctor was, how much the doctor helped him improve his condition throughout the years, and how long he had been a patient. He even stated he felt lucky to be a patient here. Eventually, he asked me if I was Hispanic to which I answered yes. When asked my last name I positioned my badge so that he could see it as I answered proudly. He was excited as we talked about our backgrounds. I told him where my parents were from and he told me where his family was from. After a while, he matter-of-factly stated that if I did my residency there, he would like to be my patient. I was taken aback by this, not because the comment itself was shocking, but because of the implication - he was willing to transfer his care from an excellent and experienced physician that he obviously liked a lot, to a well-intentioned trainee, because she understood where he came from.
The way I asked him questions, as well as answered them, made him feel that I was a promising young trainee and would soon become a competent physician, sure, but it was more than that. The fact that representation is important in medicine was not brand new information, but it made me realize just how important it is to a patient for their physician to understand their whole experience when they’re sitting in that clinic chair, being examined, or being told difficult news. I will never forget that. I come back to this moment and others like it when I need a reminder of why I am here. I imagine I will need this reminder often as I begin my intern year in July, notoriously the most difficult year of medical training. I know a career of moments like these, in which I am able to connect with people that feel marginalized while doing what I am passionate about, will make it worth it.