By Diane Mankin-Cruz
I was raised by an unemployed single mother in a household that was below the poverty level. As I was growing up, even though I was a child, I was able to detect the health disparities that were present in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's health system. There was even a time in my childhood when I was afraid to visit the doctor's office, and I did not want other patients to feel the same. At approximately 14 years of age, I decided to study medicine thinking that if I were a doctor, patients would feel safe and comfortable visiting my office. When I graduated from college in 2017, I ended up as a research intern in Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.
During those days I was torn between pursuing a career as a doctor of philosophy or a doctor of medicine until September 20, 2017, when I lost all means of communication between Illinois and my family in Puerto Rico. One of the worst climatic events in the history of the island was taking place and uncovering the deficiencies of the public health system. Right after hurricane Maria, there were various cases of leptospirosis confirmed and several deaths associated with the infection. There was also a tremendous increase in the number of people of all ages committing suicide. Once again, I understood Puerto Rico's need for hands-on action and public health intervention. This is the reason why I decided to continue with my initial childhood desire of becoming a doctor.
On July 2018, I was attending my white coat ceremony at Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara in Mexico. Today, I am a second-year medical student preparing to take my USMLE Step 1 at the end of this second year. There is a bittersweet feeling about achieving my goal but also missing home and being distant from my family in Puerto Rico. However, every time I think about it, the truth is that I am doing this for them and the entire island population that gave me the strength I needed to continue my path until the very end. Another hard thing to do is to adapt to a new country, food, and lifestyle. Yet, at the end of the day, to accept and learn as much as you can from cultures different from your own is part of our personal and professional growth and development.
When I moved to Mexico, I did so with a fellow student who I have known since elementary school and lived with while we were in college. We knew each other well enough to go to medical school together. If you are considering studying medicine in another city or country, I highly suggest thinking hard about whether you want to live by yourself or with others.
When moving to a Spanish-speaking country, remember that you will have to interact using the local language. Consider it as a plus knowing that you could end your 4-year program being bilingual. Doing so will be challenging; however, if you keep focused and stay motivated and enthusiastic, you will achieve it. Keep in mind that being bilingual will help you to reach more than one demographic.
Once you get into medical school, always keep in mind a bit of advice one of my professors used to tell us: La carrera no vale la salud, meaning that your career is not worth your health. Take care and listen to your body, have three full three meals a day, stay hydrated, exercise, and get involved in medical school associations. Look for extracurricular experiences.
I joined the ACP Internal Medicine Interest Group at Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara (UAG). Since then, ACP has been a constant source of knowledge and guidance, from receiving information on how to apply for internal medicine specialty and subspecialty residency to being able to access various online courses and seminars about current relevant medical topics. I encourage medical students to join ACP as well and get the most of all the wonderful tools this association has to offer.
When I think of myself as a child wanting to protect patients from suffering what I was suffering, it is almost unbelievable that I am two and a half years away from obtaining my medical degree and starting my residency application process. It may seem like too many years; however, when you do it with your heart and soul, with vibrant passion and a purpose, you will enjoy every single day of medical school. Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed—just relax; take a break; think about why you are doing it; and, after a little while, get back on it. It's not going to be easy, but it is not impossible!
ACP Internal Medicine Interest Group Secretary at UAG
Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara School of Medicine, Graduating Class of 2022