It was the fall of 1984 when I interviewed at Einstein to become a medical student. I can still remember the jitters I felt. I was the first person in my Puerto Rican family who was born in the U.S., the first to pursue a graduate degree, the first to attempt to become a physician. Talk about a challenge.
Prior to my interview, I knew that Einstein had a strong commitment to diversity and considered it critical to the education of its student body. I was still a bundle of nerves.
Then my faculty interviewer walked in: Dr. Fernando Camacho. He was Latino, just like me.
Seeing him and hearing him speak, I can remember feeling the pressure ease. I listened with great interest as he talked about his cancer practice in the Bronx community and his role as a senior leader in the school’s administration. It was the first time that I recall truly believing that I could become a doctor—that it would no longer be a distant dream.
I vividly remember my first day of medical school in 1985. I was excited and thrilled. I was also scared. Given my background and my fears, I wondered: would I make it?
There were some difficult transition points during my time at Einstein. For instance, I had no idea how much material I would have to absorb in such a short period. It was overwhelming at first. I had to learn how to study with other students. The financial challenges were also significant. But at every turn I was increasingly convinced that Einstein’s faculty and leaders were committed to maintaining diversity by providing the resources and mentorship that I needed as a student who was a member of an underrepresented minority.
With the support of the faculty and my fellow students, I slowly gained confidence.
Throughout my journey at Einstein—from medical student to resident and now senior faculty member—the school has maintained an environment where excellence and diversity are embraced by everyone from students and postdocs to the faculty and senior leadership. It’s truly an honor now to serve as Einstein’s associate dean of diversity. Sometimes, it’s honestly hard to believe where this path has taken me!
My years at Einstein have been remarkable. I’ve had inspiring role models and mentors such as Dr. Camacho and Dr. Roger Duvivier, who was born in Haiti, both of whom exemplify the compassion and professionalism that are critical in healthcare. I was constantly reminded that my role as a physician extends beyond healing patients, always my primary focus. I have become a teacher, a mentor and an advocate for the Bronx community I serve, much like the faculty interviewer I met on that fall morning. Dr. Camacho’s kindness and openness are traits I try to emulate as I help students from many diverse backgrounds navigate their paths to becoming physicians.
Looking back, I realize just how much my life changed when I decided to accept Einstein’s offer to enroll as a student. I couldn’t have known then that I would dedicate my career to a vibrant, diverse community that is devoted to training outstanding doctors and clinicians and becoming strong advocates for access to high-quality healthcare for all.
Some might question the need for diversity programs, but the changing demographics in the United States mean that now, more than ever, there is a need for a diverse community of physicians. According to AAMC figures released in 2012, just 7.9 percent of all medical school applicants were Latino, out of the 17.1 percent of the population identified as Latino in the latest U.S. Census figures. Likewise, African Americans make up 13.2 percent of the population and only 7.3 percent of medical school applicants.
Challenging barriers remain to increasing the number of physicians from underrepresented minorities. But I’ve seen firsthand, for decades now, that Einstein is helping change the faces of medicine. And I’m honored to help lead that change.
Note: Interested in learning more about diversity at Einstein? Joins us for Einstein’s Office of Diversity Enhancement open house on Sunday, October 26 at 10:30 a.m. The event is for those interested in pursuing M.D., Ph.D., M.D.-Ph.D., degrees. PREP applicants and postdocs are also welcome. More info: http://www.einstein.yu.edu/education/md-program/diversity/open-house/