I attend medical school in the seventh largest city in the US. San Antonio has a population that is about 64% Hispanic, 27% White, 6% Black and 2% Asian.1 This is a cultural melting pot that yields a very ethnically diverse patient population.
While achieving diversity in the workplace and in the admissions process is controversial and challenging, I think there is merit in the effort. After seeing the patient population we receive in the clinics and hospitals, I understand the importance of having a healthcare workforce that reflects the demographics of the overall population.2 That said, I’d like to suggest that diversity is more than ethnicity, more than what box you check on an application. Diversity can also be achieved by building a physician workforce based on the experience of each individual.
If you were to bump into me on the street, a quick 3 second assessment would yield the conclusion that I am of Indian descent. Well, yes, I am. But a 30 minute conversation with me would yield a much more complex picture. I am more than my heritage.
Growing up, I was the only kid in my neighborhood of Indian descent. I knew a few other Indian kids growing up, but for the most part my heritage was reflected by what my parents taught me, and nothing else.
We lived in inner-city Dallas, on a street rich with Latino culture. My family was part of weekend festivities including quinceañeras and piñata-led birthday parties. While we ate lentil soup and spoke our native Bengali at home, we loved menudo too. We fused cultures: mixing Spanish and Bengali (“Spangali”) and inventing tandoori tamales for the next gathering. This was home.
Fast forward a decade and I found myself in college in upstate New York, in a small town far away from Dallas, Texas. There was a small Latino community at Cornell, and a large Indian community that I had never before been exposed to. I found myself bridging the two worlds, trying to figure out where I fit in. For the first time, I learned about Indian dance, Indian music, Indian movies and popstars and magazines and TV shows. It was like entering a whole new world!
I am extremely lucky. From a young age I was exposed to many diverse cultures. My childhood was anthropologically rich – forcing me to adapt to and embrace cultural differences. This has been invaluable as I moved to upstate New York for college and began working in Boston during the summers. I am always in new settings, and enjoy connecting with people from varied backgrounds. Whether at a cocktail party, a new school, or the bedside of a patient, understanding where people are coming from is paramount.
In medical school in San Antonio, I am surrounded by people of all different backgrounds. There are plenty of Indian kids here to teach me about my culture, and there are plenty of Latino kids to help me with my Spanish and making tandoori tamales. On top of that there are so many other cultures to learn from as well. I feel at home again.
I love living and learning in a city with so many different cultures and languages. And my classmates are just as diverse as this city. There are a lot of different ethnicities represented in our class, but what’s more important is that there are a lot of different experiences represented. One classmate may be of Country W heritage, but he or she has traveled to Countries X and Y and grown up in Country Z. When we look at him or her we might only see Country W. But there is so much more under the surface. It is what is under the surface that shapes how someone will practice medicine.
What sorts of cultural experiences have you had and how has it shaped you?
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All of the opinions expressed here are the author’s and hers alone, and do not represent necessarily those of Kaplan or its employees.