The Token Foreigner

26 Feb 2020

By Patricia Martinez Quinones

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”

  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Imagine receiving an email that you have been selected to present as an invited speaker at one of the largest surgical meetings. That feeling of excitement, a sense of pride, knowing all your hard work is paying off. You are wandering the hallways of your hospital and run into a senior male member of your department. Unable to contain your emotions, you share the good news, only to be met with a response of “well, looks like you’re the token foreigner.” Certainly not the response you were hoping for, not a “congratulations” or “job well done.” Your excitement, happiness and pride are now replaced by feelings of self-doubt and you sense the imposter syndrome creep back in.

As a Latina in surgery my life has been one of many firsts. First in my family to obtain a professional degree, first physician, first to move from the island (Puerto Rico) to the mainland, first Latina to match into my general surgery program and first to decide to pursue a doctorate during residency. In a world of firsts, how do we find the support and encouragement to thrive when we are traveling an unknown path?

  1.   Find your tribe: Would you believe me if I told you I found my tribe through Twitter? Several years ago, I found the Association of Women Surgeons through social media. Becoming involved in AWS has led to life-long friendships, leadership opportunities, research presentations at the annual conference and even publications with other AWS members. With data demonstrating an increase in attrition for women and Hispanics in general surgery training, it is ever more important to go “find your tribe, engage, and thrive” as Dr. Feibi Zheng recently wrote on the AWS Blog.
  1.   Mentorship and Sponsorship are key: According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, Hispanics comprise only three percent of faculty positions in US medical schools. A lack of mentorship and role models is a challenge for underrepresented minorities. Support from my PhD advisor, surgery faculty and chairperson were instrumental in my success of pursuing an advanced degree in the middle of my surgery training. Find support within your institution, through AWS, the American College of Surgeons or through organizations such as the Latino Surgical Society, Society for Black Academic Surgeons, Association for Academic Surgery and others which provide mentorship programs and opportunities for students and trainees.   

How did the presentation go, you may be wondering. Well, after the panel session ended a medical student walked up to me and introduced herself. A Latina medical student, a DREAMER. Her comment was “I never thought I would come to this meeting and see someone that looks like me on stage. You are the first Latina surgeon I have seen present.” Goosebumps, and a lump in my throat, quickly followed. I was left speechless, because a few years ago I was that medical student who didn’t see herself represented. I will cherish our brief interaction and hope that the next time we meet I can call her my colleague and introduce her to the next medical student who will soon follow our footsteps (or create her own).


Patricia Martinez Quinones is a general surgery resident at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. She completed a PhD in Biomedical Sciences (Physiology) during her residency research years. She hopes to continue her career path in academic trauma and critical care surgery. Patricia is the chair of the AWS Resident and Fellow Committee. She is a wife, doggy-mom, proud Puerto Rican and you can find her on Twitter at @PMartinezMD.


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.

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