"Medicine should be as diverse as the population it serves"
In our ongoing efforts to grow and ensure that we are a space for all people to feel safe and able to learn and collaborate, the Center for Reproductive Science is seeking to showcase and elevate stories from people of all races, colors, and ethnicities. Today, we feature Vanessa Rosa, who also graduates (today, as a matter of fact!) with her Master's of Science in Reproductive Science and Medicine. Below, Vanessa shares her powerful story about life in the Bronx and the hopes she has for the future!
The Bronx. To those who did not grow up there, the borough is less than welcoming. The streets are regularly patrolled by gang members where acts of violence and crime determine your fate. To me, these streets of the Bronx are home, filled with the richness of Latin American culture: the smell of café con leche and freshly baked bread before sunrise, the boisterous chatter of neighbors in the bodega, and the irresistible melody of merengue and bachata heard from every window. However, working in healthcare in the Bronx told a different story. I saw firsthand how poverty discriminated against the health of my community. These experiences propelled me to pursue medicine to help the underserved Spanish-speaking communities access the healthcare they need. As a physician, I hope to accomplish this by connecting on a common background, advocating for affordable care, and ensuring effective communication.
As an EMT student, I had the privilege of riding along with the paramedics of St. Barnabas Hospital, treating urgent patients at their most vulnerable. The sirens from the ambulance whirred above us, as we were dispatched to a respiratory distress call from a nursing home a few blocks away. Upon entering the nursing home, an elderly man was gasping for air. The weight of the oxygen tank in my hands felt heavier with each agonizing attempt he made to breathe. The patient clung to my shirt and from his expression, I recognized the fear I saw too often during my shifts, and his need for comfort, “We’re in this together, I’m going to help you breathe,” I say in Spanish. He nodded, his eyes scared but trusting. He never let go of his grasp, but with every squeeze of the ambu-bag and the hiss of the oxygen tank, he began to relax. There is a lack of trust in healthcare workers within impoverished communities like mine. I believe diversity in the medical field bridges this gap; I want to be a physician to connect with patients on a cultural and emotional level to ease patients’ fear of medicine and bring more much-needed trust.
During my time as a medical scribe at a urology clinic, I also helped translate for the Hispanic population. Even though Dr. G had me as a tool, he also took it upon himself to find ways to bridge the language barrier. He expressed that, in the past, he often saw patients with advanced diseases that did not receive treatment earlier due to their inability to speak English. Thus, he implemented the use of bilingual medical brochures as well as tablet-based educational materials, and he even had me teach him medical Spanish terms. As a result, more patients were attending follow-up appointments which correlated to improvements in their health. It was refreshing to see how comfortable patients became when sharing their concerns about their urinary health and how proactive they became. Dr. G advocated for his minority patient population by implementing health literacy, and by doing so, he showed me what it means to be a caring and attentive physician. Working with him inspired me to pursue a career that would give me the ability to simultaneously educate, advocate, empower, and heal.
While at the urology clinic, I also saw firsthand the effects of cost barriers on patients’ health. One patient stood out to me most during an early shift at the clinic. He was one of our favorite patients-his positivity and laughter always filled the room. However, he had stopped coming to his appointments because the cost of his medical insurance was unbearable and was impacting his way of life. Upon finding out about the cost burden, Dr. G kindly wavered the fees for his visit. When our patient returned for his appointment, he was cheery as usual, but there was an apparent tension in his demeanor. We were all anxiously awaiting the results of his prostate biopsy. After what seemed like a lifetime, the results came in and from the look on Dr. G’s face, I knew that the biopsy results confirmed our suspicion. And with a sadness in his voice, he said to me, “He doesn’t have much time to live. I wish we could have caught this sooner.” Unfortunately, this was all too common in my community where individuals from low-income backgrounds are unable to afford health insurance, which impacts the continuity of care received. I hope to become a physician to efficiently work with patients and find ways to provide affordable, high-quality care.
I believe medicine should be as diverse as the population it serves. Every disease has a precise biological pathology, yet there exist underlying differences in how these diseases are exacerbated in certain populations. Often, the populations affected most are those with the least access to care. I want to be an adaptable, compassionate, and culturally competent physician dedicated to the underserved to help work toward equitable access for all. Specifically, through my upbringing and experiences in urology, reproduction, and working with the underserved, I anticipate becoming a physician who helps the Spanish-speaking underserved navigate the complex world of hormones and development through pediatrics, endocrinology, or obstetrics and gynecology. To connect, empower, and heal the people of the Bronx and other Latino communities is my ultimate goal.