As a young girl growing up in the Dominican Republic, I dreamed of a career in medicine. I imagined the most difficult part of having a career in medicine would be academic.
Little did I know that someday I would be clobbered in every direction by challenges much larger, and more personal, than the universal challenges of medical academia that all students faced on their journey into a medical career.
When I landed in the US at about 16, my young mother and my 4 younger siblings had essentially fled our country, from the emotional and financial ravages of an extremely messy divorce that had left us shell shocked.
At the time, my mother didn't speak English, had never worked outside our family business in her life, & was struggling with unbearable heartbreak and the jaws of the darkness of a depression that threatened to consume her and the rest of us.
Being the oldest of 5 children and being fluent in English- at 16 I served as a translator, surrogate mother, therapist, baby sitter, appointment maker, bus route figure-outter, house cleaner, cook, many more.
In this new American dynamic- I found myself parenting my parent, which in and of itself is a psychological mind fuck that I would not unpack well into my 20s, on a cold, dark, brown leather couch at my therapist's office.
All of this was in addition to being an insecure 16-year-old girl, in a new country, trying to navigate the challenges of high school, puberty, and the crippling social pressures of high school life as an outcast because I didn't fit into any box.
When the time came to apply for college, for me, it looked something like this:
No guidance or support navigating the application process, because my mom didn't speak English much less understand, FAFSA, SAT scores, rankings, and mitigating the cost of a college education.
No financial support for SATs, college app fees, or tuition. As a single mom working full time on welfare under the table and barely making ends meet- it was humanly impossible.
So I had to figure it out on my own, which at the time seemed unfair but whatever- I had to do what I had to do, just like my mom did and just like every other immigrant has to.
By then my dream of having a medical career had only intensified- as I saw it as a legal opportunity to get myself and someday my family out of poverty, marginalization, and the perception that I was some sort of non-American parasite- sucking the life out of other rightful "real" Americans- because in many spaces- that is what I actually felt like.
So I was driven. My why to pursue medicine was far greater than "I want to help people", or "my daddy is a doctor."
Thank God it was, because, without it, the stamina to get there would have run out at the first realization that being an immigrant would make it 100x more difficult than everyone else, for me to have a career in medicine.
My undergraduate course can be summarized like this.
Zero financial support.
Got an academic scholarship to an expensive private school out of state that was way out of my price range.
Even with the scholarship & loans, worked no less than 2 jobs the entire time & still couldn't make ends meet or cover tuition.
In my desperation, I even impersonated my mom, forged her signature, and got a Parent Plus loan in her name behind her back. Read more about my regrettable student loan mistakes here.
Zero emotional support.
As you can imagine, my family was in full survival mode and could barely handle their own psycho-social challenges and were not equipped to add my stuff to the pile, just as I was unable to add their stuff to mine.
But 4 years later, I graduated with a degree in Biology/ Pre-Med.
It only cost me $30,000 and some of my sanity.
But I learned something valuable, and it was that I had the power to make things happen, even with all the odds stacked against me, even if I needed loans, there always seemed to be a way through- even if it required me repeatedly banging my head against closed door after closed door.
I was resourceful. I had a certain power to turn nothing into something.
I was an alchemist. This gave me confidence.
When I made a decision to pursue PA school, before I started- I already knew I could do it.
All I needed to do was throw myself in the spin cycle that was navigating academia for a person like me and hold tf on and come out alive on the other side.
Although the academic stakes were much higher- the process of applying, paying for, and getting to sit in a classroom of PA school, was similar to navigating undergrad.
I had to do things that few others had to, with less emotional and financial support than the others, but eventually, I graduated just like the rest of them.
Yes. I had many, many breakdowns.
Yes, there were times when I felt as though I wasn't going to make it.
Yes, it almost broke me when I was hungry and had no money to eat even though I was working.
Yes. I was jealous of my classmates that didn't have to worry about food & shelter.
Yes. I wished more than anything that the only thing I had to worry about was doing well in school.
Yes. At times I cried and cried without solace at how unjust it was that all I wanted was to get an education and had to suffer so much to make something that seemed to be an inherent right to everyone else but me.
If you happen to be the kind of student that has similar challenges, take this as a sign that if you want a career in medicine or anything else in life for that matter, you can do it.
Please let go of comparing what your journey looks like when attempting to measure your path with others.
We don't start out on the same playing field. But there are 2 types of people:
The types that don't start unless everyone else is on the same starting line as them.
& the types who level out the playing field no matter where their starting line is.
I hope you choose to be the latter because we need more people like us in medicine.