Kristian Falcon, OMS-III
This article was originally published in the November/December issue of the Tarrant County Physician. You can read find the full magazine here.
“Si se puede!” (Yes, you can). . .
. . . is what I have been told throughout my life by my parents and by my entire familia. Being the first ever in my family to go into the medical field is a commonality that many Hispanic students share. My father emigrated from Mexico at the age of 18 and had to delay attending university to first learn English. My mother immigrated here at the age of 26, after already holding a teaching license and an equivalent master’s degree in Mexico. She had to redo her education after first learning English to regain her teaching license in the U.S.
Learning English at the same time as my mother was no easy feat. She taught me my vowels and how to read while we taught her proper syntax and English grammar. When it came time to apply to college, how was I supposed to ask my parents to revise my application essays since when growing up, I was the one who edited and revised their emails and text messages?
When I began college, my father asked me, “What are you going to do with a degree in biology?” to which I responded, “Be a scientist.” He wasn’t asking because he didn’t believe in me; he was asking because he truly didn’t know what I could do with such a degree, and to be 100 percent honest, I didn’t either. Becoming a doctor was not a thought I had before; I fell into this path through getting involved with my passion to serve others and my interest in science. Once I realized that I pictured my future self as being a physician, my family grew concerned about the difficult path I would face. They suggested alternative careers, knowing that no one from our family had ever gone down this path before and that many who try, fail.
Maybe I was naïve and didn’t do the proper research on what a career as a physician entailed, but without any guidance, I faced only my short-term goals, one at a time. What I didn’t realize was that becoming a doctor involved much more than just meeting specific checkboxes. It required immense dedication, time, and sacrifice.
At times, I questioned if I even belonged in medical school. During my application process I was told, “You only interviewed there because you’re Hispanic and speak Spanish,” or “You’re lucky you’re underrepresented in medicine; you’ll get accepted anywhere.” I was continually discredited of my merits and accomplishments because of my ethnicity, even though I had years of volunteering, research, and experiences in the medical field as an EMT, and had not only a bachelor’s but also a master’s degree. Upon entering medical school there were less than 20 Hispanic medical students in my class of 220. Hispanic students make up only 15 percent of the student population of all the health professional colleges combined in the health science center I attend, while in Texas, the Hispanic population comprises roughly 40 percent of the state’s population.
Lacking representation and not having mentors who had faced similar paths, I struggled to fit in and find my place. While many of my colleagues had family and friends that were doctors, I grew up not knowing a single person in this field besides my own doctor. I faced obstacles because I had to find resources on my own to help me accomplish my goals. Every medical experience, preceptorship, or shadowing opportunity was one I went out and found on my own; I didn’t have the luxury of growing up with those opportunities around me. I carved my own path.
Within the first month of my third year, I was reminded of the importance of having Hispanic representation in the medical field. I attended to many patients who were Hispanic and spoke only Spanish. While medical translators are vital and do an amazing job of communicating adequately with a patient when there is a language barrier, being able to communicate directly and relate to a patient forms a bond unlike another. Conversations with a translator can sometimes be procedural and very formal; being able to communicate freely in one’s own language allows for a more human interaction and a better understanding between a provider and a patient.
It is the moment when I see a patient become more animated and more comfortable that I remember why I chose this career and that I bring more representation to this field. I remember why I chose to be the first in my family to carve this path, and why I choose to be involved in leadership and advocacy so that many others like me can take this path a little less blindly. While I still have over a year left until I graduate and become a physician, my message to those who seek this path is, “Si se puede!”