By Nancy Lopez
As a fourth-year medical student, I am anxiously awaiting the third Friday of March: Match Day. Match Day is an iconic moment for medical students in which the last decade of both successes and failures consummate into a single envelope… an envelope that contains the program at which we will be training as residents.
For some, this envelope is simply a job opportunity, but for others it is the manifestation of generations of sacrifice and perseverance. As the first individual in my family to be born in the United States, I was the first to have many opportunities, including the opportunity to obtain a medical education. My success story began a little under one hundred years ago with my grandmother. My grandmother did not have the resources to pursue a career in her country, however, when she heard the news of my imminent birth in a country full of opportunities, she knew that I would surmount to greatness. By being a product of humble beginnings, she told me I would understand who is in need and because of my desire to heal, I will heal those similar to me, those similar to her.
As a woman of Latino descent, I have been faced with a variety of obstacles to overcome: cultural, linguistic, and financial to name a few. The day that I started to hear “no” is the day that I became adamant about proving to the world that I was capable of achieving greatness, regardless of my ethnic or gender background. My determination to prove my capabilities to the nay-sayers drew from my desire to make my family proud. I wanted to make my family proud of the fact that their perseverance and sacrifices amounted to a better future for their children. They could not be more proud of my success in becoming the first woman in my Latino family to become a surgeon.
Why is Match Day momentous for a first-generation medical student? As Markowitz eloquently described, consider a child who is learning how to ride a bicycle. Who is teaching this child? The parent, aunt, uncle, or grandmother? What if this particular adult does not know how to ride a bicycle? “Do you expect the child just to pick up the bicycle and hope for the best?” In my case, I was determined to learn how to ride a bicycle. I wanted to learn in order to teach others whose parents might also not know how to ride a bicycle. My family endured similar moments of joy, stress, and anxiety having been intertwined with my education through all of its intricate steps. My success is as much their accomplishment as my own. They will be there by my side the day I begin to remove the training wheels.
On Match Day, when you see medical students opening their envelopes, consider looking at the friends and family, particularly those of first-generation women entering the surgical field. The pride radiating from their eyes is the very essence by which I, as a first-generation medical student, will continue to succeed and why I will continue to teach others like me how to ride a bicycle.
Nancy Lopez was raised in Los Angeles, CA. She attended the University of California, Irvine and obtained a B.S. in biological sciences with a minor in medical anthropology. She then pursued a Masters of Science in global medicine at the University of Southern California. Having developed an interest in health disparities, she became a clinical study coordinator at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine where she investigated malnutrition, diet, and racial disparities in ESRD. She is receiving her Medical Doctorate degree from the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix. She is involved with policy and advocacy as Vice President of Policy for the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) West Region. She is interested in addressing racial and gender disparities in surgical education and is part of the AWS Outreach Task Force as well as the Latino Surgical Society. She is interested in pediatric surgery and global surgery. In her spare time, Nancy is an avid hiker, snowboarder, and Latin dancer. You can find her on Twitter @Nancy_Lopez5.
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