by Minerva Romero Arenas, MD, MPH
There are two questions that students frequently ask me about becoming a doctor. One is, “What did you do to become a doctor?” and “How did you stay motivated?” I often tell students attending the Tour 4 Diversity in Medicine (T4D) that becoming a doctor is like running a marathon. The pathway to medicine is long and challenging; I jumped through a lot of “hoops” (prerequisite courses, examinations, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, interviewing, etc.) just to get to medical school. At this point, I swear if their eyes get any wider they will come out of their socket. Then I tell them about the time I have spent in residency, research, and fellowships – and overwhelming is probably a gross understatement.
There are many factors that contribute to a person’s success – especially the success of a doctor. In my own personal path, I credit my success to at least four essential factors.
My family has been one of the main sources of strength and motivation. Like many immigrant families, we moved to the United States to pursue the American Dream. I was 8 years old when we moved, but since that young age I knew that my family (yes, I mean my parents, tías and tíos and abuelita) wanted better opportunities for our family. While my family never pushed me to be anything in particular, they always supported and encouraged me to pursue higher education – an opportunity they did not have. When a situation challenges me, I think back to how fortunate I am to have a loving and supportive family and any doubt is erased from my mind.
I also credit my mentors – yes, more than one – with a large part of helping me succeed. Some of them were professors who helped me stay on track and grow academically. Others were instrumental in helping me develop leadership and life skills. Yet others were research mentors or clinical mentors who helped figure out my interest in these fields. Even now as I am in my surgical training, I continue to keep in touch with some of these mentors and have even gained new mentors who are helping me grow and develop as a surgeon-in-training and future leader in healthcare.
I also found motivation in programs that helped me remember why I wanted to be a doctor. In college it was when I worked in certain clinics or doctors. In medical school, student-run clinics, organizations that connected me with other students and doctors who shared similar backgrounds or interests such as ending health disparities. In fact, even now that I have become a doctor and am completing my surgical training I still find it refreshing to remember why I chose this career in the first place. This is part of the reason I joined Tour 4 Diversity in Medicine. Talking to students about my love of surgery, or helping patients, or my research – it always help make me feel more
Lastly, I tell students the most important factor in achieving success is the one that nobody else can help you with: hard work. There have been many people who have provided guidance, support, and opportunities that helped me achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. However, I know that my own effort helped me earn the respect and time of my mentors and make the most of the opportunities that were provided. Most importantly it has given me a source of pride and confidence that will continue to make me a successful person and surgeon.
This article was originally posted on February 5, 2014 on the Tour 4 Diversity website under the title “#T4DWest Day 2: A Recipe for Success – One Surgeon’s Story”