By Natalia Correa
Organized chaos flooded the seventh operating room in the form of three transplant teams from Miami, Charlotte, and Daytona Beach. The surgeons scrubbed, nurses counted, scrub techs gowned, and the anesthesiologist ventilated. Every moving piece fell into place, as we called for a time-out. Five sets of hands eloquently worked to isolate each organ and preserve its viability for the next body to appreciate its inhabitance. From the first incision to the last suture, I watched as the heart pumped, lungs inflated, and blood flowed. No lecture, video, textbook, or cadaver could emulate this process. Our heads bowed, as we thanked our patient for the gifts of longevity he offered to recipients of his heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and pancreas. I stood enamored at the head of the operating table and felt reassured by the second chance offered to those receiving each carefully harvested organ. I always knew medicine would grant me the opportunity to impact many lives; however, this unique moment confirmed my calling to become a surgeon.
I often found myself as the only Latina in the surgical setting and sought mentors who shared a similar experience. This isolation deters numerous minorities, but in my case, it was the fuel to my fire and my anchoring pursuit. As a Latina, I have strengthened the teams I was a part of with the ability to connect culturally and linguistically with non-English speaking patients. I translated for my preceptors, advocated for patients’ needs, and reassured families before every procedure. My name is Natalia Correa, and I am a fourth-year medical student at Florida State University College of Medicine. This month, I am applying for a categorical position in general surgery and I could not think of a better way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month than joining the 6% of Hispanic/Latinx physicians in the United States. Though the number falls to 4-5% for Hispanic/Latinx surgeons and even less for those who identify as women, I find strength in knowing I am exactly where I need to be. As a surgeon, I aim to advocate for diversity, support the goals of future underrepresented surgeons, minimize disparities, and promote health equity.
Receiving mentorship from women in surgery has been essential to my resilience as a minority medical student and aspiring surgeon. It would be remiss of me not to mention the instrumental role that the Association of Women Surgeons played in my journey. In 2021, I received the Association of Women Surgeons Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Award to attend the virtual conference as a third-year medical student. This award allowed me to connect with leaders and mentors I would not have been exposed to otherwise. I learned about the Latino Surgical Society (LSS) and Association for Academic Surgeons (AAS) and became a member of both organizations shortly after. These organizations also connected me with an endless network of leaders and mentors who were incredibly eager to support my aspirations of becoming a surgeon. As a DEI award recipient, I gained access to unlimited inspiration, support, and opportunities.
I became involved with the social media team for the Latino Surgical Society and have since been able to work closely with Dr. Minerva Romero Arenas on my personal and professional goals as an aspiring surgeon. At our monthly meetings, we discuss ways to improve my resume, how to excel as a visiting medical student, ways to strengthen my ERAS application, how to shine in residency interviews, and more. Dr. Romero has personally contacted her colleagues at the institutions I was visiting so I could have additional support and establish meaningful relationships as I prepare for the application and interview season. Dr. Romero is one of many selfless and accomplished leaders that AWS and LSS have. Evidently, the support gained from AWS, LSS, and AAS, especially as a minority, has been absolutely invaluable and instrumental in my success. If you take anything away from this, I implore all students to be persistent and eager in their journey. You never know who you will meet or what doors may open, but you should always be prepared to walk through them!
Natalia Correa is a fourth-year medical student at Florida State University College of Medicine. Prior to attending medical school, she completed her Bachelor’s in Exercise Physiology at Florida State University and Master’s in Medical Sciences at the University of South Florida. She was born and raised in Miami, Florida as a first-generation American with parents from Bogota, Colombia. Natalia has applied to match into General Surgery this year and is ecstatic to become the first surgeon in her family! Her most cherished accomplishments are sharing her journey as a Latina medical student to inspire the next generation and supporting the diversification of the medical field. As a surgeon, Natalia aspires to remain involved with medical education, serve as a mentor for future surgeons, and start her own scholarship program in the future. She has interests in trauma and acute care surgery, but she wants to keep an open mind as she continues her journey! In her free time, she enjoys traveling, exploring new places and tasting different cuisines. She cherishes the time she spends with her family and friends, especially when it involves going out to explore together!
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.