A few weeks ago, I was grateful to attend the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) National/Midwest Regional Conference at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. This conference came at a perfect time in the middle of my third year as a medical student at the University of Michigan (UM), and has been one of many events during medical school that have strengthened my sense of community, recharged and inspired me, and reminded me of why I came to medical school.
I have always been told college is where I belong, yet through my experiences I have been struck by how important it is to find mentors and community that can provide support for the journeys that lie ahead. I am the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants. My mother walked across her high school graduation stage four months pregnant with me. My father served in the Navy and I lived in nine different houses before I graduated high school. I am the first in my family to attend college. Like many first-generation college students, once I achieved the dream of college, I was left with the question of “where do I go from here?” I realized no one had ever asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I had no insight into navigating higher education. Looking back, I realize I missed many opportunities. Thankfully, I followed each of my passions as I encountered them, discovering a love of anatomy as a senior in undergrad that led to a Master’s in Anatomy. My first research experiences in my master’s program drove me to a PhD in Integrative Physiology, and my desire to help patients led me to medical school. Even with all of the lessons I learned through my previous education, medical school has still felt daunting and at times I’ve felt lost on how to navigate all of these novel experiences.
However, I’ve found that having a sense of community has truly helped ground and revitalize me. Throughout my time in medical school, I have loved game and movie nights with the Latin American Native American Medical Association (LANAMA), going to conferences with passionate people, including LMSA or surgical conferences, mentoring first generation and women medical students and undergraduates, serving as co-director of the UM Student-Run Free Clinic, coaching track and field for first-sixth graders in Ypsilanti, and co-founding the Leadership Exposure for the Advancement of Gender and Underrepresented Minority Equity in Surgery (LEAGUES) Fellowship: an initiative to provide early surgical experiences for underrepresented minority medical students. Spending time with my community, whether in a social environment or working together to bring forth change, re-centers me on why I came to medical school – to be a leader and advocate for others and my patients.
The third year of medical school is an exciting and liberating time – you’ve taken Step 1 and have the freedom to personalize your schedule – explore rotations you’re interested in, perform research you’re passionate about, and pursue any opportunities you can think of. It’s also a time when your peers are scattered across different rotations and sometimes you can feel disconnected from your classmates. But many opportunities throughout the year do bring you together. So far I’ve been able to attend multiple conferences: Society of Thoracic Surgeons, where I was paired with inspiring women Cardiothoracic resident and surgeon mentors; Academic Surgical Congress where I presented my research, and heard passionate and inspiring talks about improving the future of surgery for patients and medical professionals; and the Moses Gunn Research Conference hosted by our Department of Surgery, where I presented my research and felt motivated by our surgical department to change the world through research.
The LMSA National/Midwest Regional Conference in particular was a beautiful conference that lasted three days where I was able to catch up with my peers and hear about everything in their lives, from the amazing things they are doing, to their rotations, exciting research, or submitting their match rank list! The days were filled with talks and presentations by the AAMC President, faculty, residents, and our peers that ignited conversations on advocating for ourselves and patients to change medicine and provide not only access to care but quality care for all. My fellow UM third year medical students, Gracia Vargas and Maria Santos, poured their hearts and souls into organizing the conference and their passion was evident!
One thing I value about Michigan is the amount of support they provide their students. There was great UM representation at our exhibitor booth: medical students tabling for our medical school Admissions office, the UM Office for Health Equity & Inclusion sharing the opportunities at UM for students passionate about diversity and health equity care, and the Surgery Department, representing strong with our attending surgeon Dr. Filip Bednar and inspiring residents Valeria Valbuena and Shukri Dualeh sharing about the surgery department and great initiatives for underrepresented minority medical students, including LEAGUES and an away sub-Internship. These amazing surgeons spent one-on-one time teaching surgical skills, like knot tying, suturing, and laparoscopic skills to conference attendees.
The last night of the conference fittingly ended dancing into the night to Latin music with my husband and our friends. The conference strengthened that we are changing the face of medicine and that is something I am grateful to do with amazing fellow medical students, residents, and faculty at Michigan. I am most thankful to experience everything medical school (and life) has to offer, including the LMSA conference, with my husband, who is also a third-year medical student and has been my best friend and constant support. ❤️
¡Si Se Puede!
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Jessica is a fourth-year medical student at University of Michigan. She is passionate about academic surgery & providing care for all by all. You can also find her on the trail with her husband and dog, Kahlo! She can be followed on Twitter at @JSantosParker