Three Tips for First-Generation Latino Med Students

Latino Med Students BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy belatina.com

For Latino families, few successes top an education. We are the children and grandchildren of men and women who sacrificed much in life to ensure a better future for ourselves, which is often directly proportional to a higher education.

In the case of first-generation Latinos, any education is a merit beyond comparison whether it’s going back to school, going to community college, or trade school.

However, it’s not always easy, let alone if your calling is to begin a career as intimidating as a career in medicine.

We know that, naturally, no one knows everything right off the bat. That’s why we talked to two first-generation, brilliant medical enthusiasts, Latina students who can shed some light.

Elizabeth Garcia, M.D., and Melissa Gonzalez, a second-year student, give us their advice to ease these concerns and help welcome our next Latino medical students.

Tip #1: Find mentors

Dr. Garcia: “Specifically, one that shares your culture, background, and/or career interests. No one navigates the medical field on their own. Nowadays, you can also connect with mentors virtually, so don’t be afraid to reach out and send a quick message. Plenty of Latinx physicians are eager to help the next generation of Latinx leaders!”

Gonzalez:You want a mentor that can provide personal guidance and help you be successful on the path you choose. [But] do not let a mentor steer you away from going to medical school because that is not a mentor’s role or choice to make.”

Tip #2: Learn to prioritize your mental health

Dr. Garcia: “When I finally got the opportunity to work directly with patients, I found myself getting overly invested in my patient’s stories and not having time to see other patients or time to study when I got home. I felt a heavy sense of responsibility to care for people who looked like me and shared similar hardships growing up. I continue to feel this responsibility, but I am now learning to be a patient advocate while setting personal boundaries. I’m learning to prioritize my mental health so that I may have the energy to continue helping my patients without burning out.”

Gonzalez: “I struggled with my mental health in college, and I am so glad that I reached out for help and started going to therapy. It was challenging at first, especially since mental health is taboo in the Latinx community. I learned a lot about myself and how to cope with stress and emotions. As a cross country and track runner for seven years, I still run today as a way to de-stress and get outside. I also love painting and photography, and I try to take some time at least a few times a month to paint and get my mind off studying. I am grateful that I had time before starting medical school to mentally prepare myself for the rigor and build healthy habits. Having these outlets and talking to my parents and friends throughout the week keeps me grounded and reminds me that life should not only be about studying. In challenging moments, I give myself some grace and remind myself that I am where I dreamed of being as a 5-year-old.

Tip #3: Set up a Google Calendar

Dr. Garcia:  “I’m obsessed with Google Calendar! I schedule self-care events the same way I schedule lectures/homework/etc. I want to make sure I am prioritizing myself just as much as I prioritize my profession. Self-care activities can include a walk in the park, journaling, painting, a phone call with a bestie, cooking a meal, whatever makes you happy! Make sure you put those little things in your calendar too so that they actually happen.”

Gonzalez: “I rely on my Google Calendar a lot and will schedule things like going for a run, going to the gym, Face-timing a friend, or going to a restaurant that I have wanted to try. I find that if I put an activity on my calendar at a set time, I am more likely to actually do it. Whenever I feel guilty about taking time to do non-school-related activities, I remind myself how much more invigorated I feel after taking a break, and I end up being more productive!”