Changes are Coming: Being Afro-Latinx in Medicine

Medicine is one of the most challenging fields to navigate, however, it is rewarding. 

My name is Frederick Grady and I am a first-generation Afro-Latinx medical student in my third year of medical school. If I sat here and wrote a piece stating that my journey to medicine has been easy, I’d be lying.  As the first in my family to attend medical school, it feels like the world is on my shoulders and I have no wiggle room to mess up. Everyone is counting on me and this creates stress.

One of the biggest challenges that I have encountered is Imposter Syndrome. For those that are not familiar with this term, it refers to an immense feeling that you do not belong in the position that you are in and paranoia that you will be found to be a fraud. This didn’t become an issue until I started medical school. I did well in college, so I assumed I knew how to study and take exams, yet during my time in medical school, I quickly realized that though I was smart, I didn’t have the best resources and /or proper set of study tools to remember the relevant and important information required. I had no one to warn me about what I walked into when I started medical school. This challenge created a toxic balance of anxiety and fear. I started to feel like I was never doing enough; every small mistake I began to amplify times a million. I would study so much and at times go blank during exams. I then realized that I had test anxiety which got so bad that it was affecting my sleep and my relationship as well. 

My anxiety was at its highest 6 months before taking Step 1 (the first part of the medical licensing exam). I had a breakdown and I wanted to quit school. I’m normally an extroverted individual but I became a hermit, I felt like everyone including my girlfriend at the time now fiancé was against me. I broke up with her and didn’t talk to anyone in my family and I let my mind confirm this feeling of being alone. I felt like my family and friends from home didn’t understand what I was going through on a daily basis. I was sleeping about 2-3 hours a night and it got so bad that some weeks I would go days without sleep. 

After I took my board exam, I took a year away from medical school to do research, which ultimately became one of the best decisions I could have made for I was on the verge of burning out, contemplating giving up on this dream. Before officially starting my research year, I went home, I went to the beach and to a Dodgers game and I was working it out with my girlfriend. I was starting to feel like myself again. These activities allowed me to clear my mind and helped me reconnect with why this was so important to me. It helped me rediscover my inner peace, and helped in ushering in a new understanding and approach to medical school and research. 

During my research year, I learned laboratory work was just as challenging as medicine and with much less guidance. Most times the question you are trying to answer has not been answered before, which fostered a new type of thinking, which would be useful later on. But taking the time to reconnect with what I love about medicine inspired me to continue and stay focused.  

I finished my year of research and was eager to get back to school to start my clinical rotations. However, I made a rule for myself. I promised that I would not touch anything school-related on Saturdays, with the exception of weekend presentations for clinic. So far it has been the most helpful decision I’ve made. It allows me to be intentional about taking care of my own well-being so that I can give school 100% effort and avoid burning out. 

Along with reconnecting with my love for medicine and approaching my studies and journey with more intention and a better understanding of honoring my mental health, one of the most rewarding experiences I had thus far during my third year was interacting with patients. 

There have been many times when I would walk into the patient room to a person of color and their face lights up. That is by far the most rewarding part of this journey. I feel proud to be a representative that can understand a patient’s medical needs but also understand the nuances and experiences of our culture and what implications it has on their care plan. The area where I go to school has a relatively small Latinx community so when Spanish speaking patients come into our offices/hospital there are few people that speak and understand Spanish. I will admit that my Spanish is sub-par, but I have been able to help people get to where they need to be and assist the physicians in ensuring that the patients understand their treatment plan. These types of experiences, in addition to almost giving up, have helped me define one of my goals, which is working within my community along with others to change the rhetoric in medicine about black and brown people. I’ve been able to help non-minority healthcare professionals better understand some of the cultural and social determinants of health. There are times when non-minority students, faculty, and staff don’t understand why patients do certain things, which can create an implicit bias. 

I’m happy and proud of my journey and that all of my struggles and misunderstandings of myself and my journey at times have led me to potentially being someone that can help bridge the gap to help create a better understanding of my culture. My hope is that people like myself and others can create a new face of medicine, breaking down barriers and bringing about knowledge and awareness to individuals who share in my own experiences and identity.

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