Faces of Change, Voices of Inspiration: Celebrating Latina Women in Medicine

 

By Sethina Edwards

The traditionally male face of medicine is changing. More women than ever are choosing to become doctors. Women physicians are influencing and enhancing the world of medicine, bringing a different perspective and cultural awareness to the practice of medicine. Minority physicians are more likely to practice in underserved areas and conduct research to reduce disparities in health care. In a multi-cultural society, having a diverse physician workforce is vitally important for the health of the nation.

For many women, becoming a doctor seems an impossible dream. These strong Hispanic women show how it can be done.

Aim High - Turn Your Back on Discouragement

It is 1.30pm and Sandy Tsao, M.D. is finishing up with the last of her morning patients. Dr. Tsao's contractions began that morning and she's eagerly awaiting the arrival of her second child, any minute! Growing up in a small Colorado town of just 10,000, she aimed high and attended Harvard Medical School. Part Navajo Indian, Hispanic and Basque, Dr. Tsao lacked Hispanic physician role models as a child. Majoring in Liberal Arts, she sought out and attended a minority summer medical program at Harvard. Inspired, she knew she wanted a career in medicine. As a dermatologist she now works at Massachusetts General Hospital and is Director of Procedural Dermatology at Harvard Medical School.

"Sometimes people insinuated I was only there because I was filling a quota", she says. With a high-profile career and book coming out later this year, it's obvious that Dr. Tsao is much more than that. Dr. Tsao will take a two-month maternity leave to spend time with her family, scheduling one morning per week to see patients. "Family is significant to me, it is a glory and honor to have children. I'm learning the importance of life balance every day", says Dr. Tsao. She has no regrets and hopes to inspire other Latinas to choose a medical career. With several Hispanic medical organizations around, there are many opportunities to seek mentors, support and information. "Never let anything be a limitation, not gender, race or personal handicaps. Overcome roadblocks, don't let financial barricades limit you. Always take the best opportunity available to you, even if others tell you not to."

Taking the Long and Winding Path - Learning About Yourself and Others Along the Way

Originating from Cuba, Perla del Pino-White, 28, was the first one of her family born in the United States. As a fourth-year medical student at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, she has already experienced a full life tinged with tragedy and triumph. With the death of her father at aged 14, Perla has spent much of her life exposed to illness. In Junior High she was her grandparents caretaker, she made them food, took them to doctors and helped with their medications. She became a nurse's assistant during High School and saw how much she enjoyed taking care of others. She knew she wanted to be a physician. With the support and encouragement of her family, she did not let anything stand in her way.

Winning a scholarship she attended the University of Miami. During those years she met many Hispanic physicians and got involved with minority pre-health organizations. Then her Mom became sick with cancer. Taking care of her, Perla studied when she could while working two jobs to help out financially. It took five years for her to finish school but Perla was still accepted to her first choice medical school.

While at medical school she discovered that many students did not speak Spanish and were not aware of Hispanic medical issues. She saw people not getting the medical service they needed because of language and cultural barriers. She founded the school's National Boricula Latino Health Organization and taught Spanish classes to students for free. "I'm just one small person in a big pond. But I'll do whatever I can do to help", says Perla.

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