Moving away from her family for the first time made her appreciate the importance of family. Successful at balancing her personal life with classes, Perla married in her second year. Planning a baby during medical school, Perla become pregnant in her fourth year. At five months pregnant she was told her baby would not make it and she took a break from school and studied at home. She remained positive and prayed. Her son was born four weeks early weighing just 2lbs, 7oz. and spent three months in Neonatal Intensive Care with numerous medical problems. Now at 6 months he is a healthy 13lbs. Her mom's cancer is in remission and she continues to be Perla's inspiration and role model. "No matter what, family comes first", she says. "Nurture your family because they take care of you. Make time for them, you need their support". Her life experiences have made her more empathetic to patients and she feels she can relate more in times of difficulty.

Perla hopes that more Hispanics consider medicine as a career. "Patients are often very happy to see me, often ecstatic. Sometimes they tell me they are very proud of me!", says Perla. She tells Latino students "never to let obstacles get in their way". As a mentor in the National Hispanic Youth Initiative she emphasizes to students, "never forget who you are or where you came from, never compromise your culture, and always let that shine because that's what will make you unique in the world of medicine. We all have something different and wonderful to offer to our patients and if that be your culture or language then let that show throughout your path to being a doctor. It will definitely make it a more exciting and enriching experience for you and your future patients." Her dream is to have a community practice in a low-income neighborhood and to work on public health policy.

Making Dreams Reality - Do Not Give Up

Grandmother Virginia Cordova is one dedicated and strong woman. At 54, Virginia is working hard on her goal to become a physician; she will take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) next year. Growing up in the South during the time of segregation, Virginia was rejected from the town because of her skin color. Part Puerto Rican and Spanish, her parents fought for her to attend a white school. These were her formative years and helped make her the tenacious person that she is today. At aged 8 she knew she wanted to become a doctor. When she married at 17 her life took her in a different direction. After two marriages and two children Virginia become a single mom and was left to support the family. She re-enrolled in college and become a paramedic.

Virginia climbed the ranks of her paramedic career. "I did everything," she says. "I covered all the bases, we saved and we lost patients. It was a dangerous job and I had guns pointed at me." As a mother she made a decision that this was not the career for her and she carved a new identity for herself as a radiation protection technologist. One day at aged 50 a friend asked her, "is there something that you have always wanted to do all your life but that thing is so big you feel it cannot be done?" Virginia knew that deep down she had always wanted to be a doctor. The seed of hope was watered again and it came to life. With the support of her now adult children Virginia began planning for this life change. She paid off debt, sorted out her finances and in 2001 re-enrolled in college. Virginia made the National Deans List, twice, and maintains a high GPA, graduating next summer with a Bachelor's in Biology.

"I put my dreams to the side for many years. I looked hard within myself and found out that I still wanted to do it. I looked at the consequences good or bad and I am willing to accept them. I will not give up", declares Virginia. To anyone who suggests that she has left it too late and won't offer many years of medical service she tells them, "if I intervene in anyone's life, even one life, that is invaluable. In five or fifteen years of service I will have helped many lives, these people won't care what age I am, only that I helped them". With many obstacles overcome, Virginia's resolve to finish the race grows stronger.

The Facts

In October 2003, the American Council on Education found that 37% of all Hispanic women aged 18-24 are enrolled in college, up 10% from 1980. Women in United States medical schools now represent 49.1% of the entering class in 2002, reports the American Medical Association (AMA). In 1970, women comprised just 7.6% of physicians in America, but by 2001 women made up 24.6% of all physicians, reports the AMA. Hispanic women physicians make up just 3.4% of all women physicians.

Many organizations are working on increasing minority enrollment in medical school. Stories like Sandy's, Perla's and Virginia's may inspire a new generation of Hispanic women physicians to make a difference in people's lives. Whether as patients or medical professionals, the world will benefit.

Resources:

Student National Medical Association - www.snma.org/
National Hispanic Youth Initiative - www.icps.org/main.htm
Health Occupation Students of America - www.hosa.org/
National Hispanic Medical Association - www.nhmamd.org
American Medical Association - www.amwa-doc.org
MomMD - www.MomMD.com
The National Society for Non-Traditional Pre-Medical and Medical Students - www.Oldpremeds.org
National Library of Medicine, Changing the Face of Medicine Exhibit - www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/exhibition/

Sethina Edwards is president of MomMD.com an online association for women in medicine. This article is scheduled to appear (in Spanish) in "Gente Latina, La Revista" magazine on November 2003.

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