As my mother and I rushed through a sea of people to reach the airplane terminal, we carried four luggage bags and three items that seemed remarkably precious at the time – an address to my aunt’s home in Miami, our passports, and hope. Amidst recurrent power outages, empty supermarket pantries, and constant bloodshed, this voyage marked an escape from Venezuela’s broken wastelands. Upon arrival in Miami, my mom clutched my small hand and said, “todo estara bien, mijo,” (“Everything will be okay, son”). Though restarting our lives and adjusting in a new country was grueling, Miami also reminded us that a good life, a better life – with hard work – was possible. My experience as an expatriate has largely shaped who I am and the physician I aspire to be. Cultural understanding, insatiable curiosity, and relentlessness are vital components to provide holistic healthcare and bring positive change in our communities.
Seeing my mother sacrifice her health by financial burdens left an impression on my journey to study medical inequities. Unbeknownst to us at the time, my mother would forgo dinner to afford new school uniforms for my brother and me. She never allowed any financial burdens to fall onto us, though this was accompanied with a heavy toll. For many years, she experienced panic attacks while in Venezuela. As a small child, I would console her by hugging her while she cried. These moments made me feel scared, angry, and helpless; I witnessed how fleeting and momentary our own health could be. While her ailment made for a turbulent childhood, it also marked the beginning of my interest in the medical sciences. I strove to understand my mom’s disease by reading how these attacks could be prevented and managed.
Soon enough, I found myself reading about the intricacies of mental health in the library during lunchtime. Often, I would accompany her to physician appointments and noticed how these visits lifted her mood. This experience propelled me to seek a biology degree coupled with years of neuroscience research. In my research, I was able to appreciate how real social stressors changed our biology. I attended several symposiums and even presented on the matter relating to how this contributed to addictive disorders. Fortunately, my mother gained access to the counselors and therapy sessions which helped her overcome her illness.
By volunteering in a crisis hotline helping individuals without health insurance or homes, I witnessed firsthand how crucial these mental health and social support resources were for thorough care. It became clear that many families lack these opportunities. As I continue my education, I vow to devote my abilities to the people who lack access to these healthcare opportunities. In college, I struggled to sustain my academic success as my parents divorced and my grandfather’s health deteriorated simultaneously. I began to feel, once again, helpless. A state I had not felt since my youth. The day my grandfather died I was met with a violent gust of wind. I could feel his warm embrace as the wind left me. It has been five years since he passed away. One day, while passing a basketball court in Miami, I saw a point guard dribbling his hands like flashes of lighting. His feet quick to turn and snatch, his Nike rubber burning against the pavement. I asked him how long he had been playing. He said, “five years.”
There is great comfort in knowing our actions can ripple throughout groups and generations. That day, I found my grandfather in a game of street ball. Unfortunately, that same neighborhood was filled with poverty and had no hospitals nearby for the next thirteen miles. Through the Society for Neuroscience, I was able to mentor and tutor at-risk and disadvantaged students in local high schools. While I used my ambitions to teach, it was not only a coping mechanism to regain control of my life. My students’ success was proof that education could be used to rise above unfortunate environments. I continued to pursue skills necessary to never feel helpless again, to help those in need of medical care, most notably those with the least access. Finally, I completed a graduate degree that only fueled my continued interest in the human body and disease.
Helping others in their most vulnerable states has helped me form a sense of purpose. In a world where the American dream is accompanied by socioeconomic burdens, I intend to eliminate pervasive health disparities from underserved areas with tools medical school will provide. My life hardships turned into opportunity and helped me realize the importance of bridging others’ stories to their health. The countless interactions I have had with each patient provides a different lesson and serve as the pillar of humanity in my journey through medicine. I intend to be a competent physician and return local communities their narratives which may otherwise remain unheard.