The Med Sisters Series is a series of interviews of women in various stages of their careers in medicine: pre-med, medical school, residency, fellowship and attending physicians. As women, I believe we face unique challenges within any field, medicine included. As I’ve moved along on this journey, I truly believe one of the biggest support systems we have is each other. Society works so hard to pit women against each other in every situation you can think of but, as feminists, I think it’s so important to combat that urge to try to ‘beat each other out.’ There’s room for all of us on the other side of the glass ceiling. The goal of this series is to shed light on the challenges women face in the field of medicine and how they achieve a work-life balance that works for them. This blog has always been a place for me to share the realities of this journey, both the highs and lows. I thought of this series as a way to share the perspectives of the other extraordinary women on this journey too.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue medicine as a career while being a mechanical engineering major? How do you stay motivated on the difficult days?
A: I’ve always known that I wanted to pursue medicine. It started in the 6th grade when I was learning about the digestive system, and something just clicked. Believe it or not, I wanted to be a dentist at first. I love to help people, but there’s something about medicine that just makes me jump out of my seat just talking about it. I thoroughly enjoy learning, and medicine rewards you with having to learn new things constantly. As an undergrad I chose mechanical engineering because I always wanted a challenge. Long story short, I had an extremely tough time in math when I was younger, and I wanted to take on the challenge in college by majoring in engineering. I guess I wanted to prove to myself that I can do really difficult things. Even though I’m majoring in engineering, my passion is in medicine.
Still a premed in engineering, on top of all the premed classes, engineering does get tiring, and there are moments where I wanted and still want to quit. I stay motivated by the fact that I know it’s temporary, and engineering isn’t forever. Soon I’ll be able to fully enjoy what I really love to do. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey in engineering. The tears, the worries, the long nights studying, the hard tests, the group projects, and the hard work. It’ll all be worth it to get to where I want to be.
Q: What has been the most emotionally difficult part of your premed journey so far? And how have you coped?
A: Several things.
Definitely accepting defeat and failure. I’m not talking about giving up… I’m talking about in regards to academics, how one studies for a test, and you did all you could do in your power, but got defeated and failed. It’s hard to accept that. Most people just give up after that. What I usually do is analyze what exactly happened, and ask myself how I could improve next time. It’s hard to recover, but a positive outlook usually does the trick. I’ve learned the hard way to accept failure. It takes time, and you definitely have to be patient with yourself when it happens.
Burn out. This is real. It’s real when one is involved in the medical field. It’s also real when in college. Studying takes an enormous amount of strain in your life, and it can cause burn out. Especially these last two semesters, as the journey has gotten harder, I have experienced burn out several times. I cope by taking several days to myself. We all need breaks from reality from time to time.
Home away from home. I think the dream started to get real my junior year as I was preparing to go to college. That’s when it hit me that this is real. Being away from home, and getting used to my current lifestyle took a toll as far as adjusting. I had to grow up. There was many moments when I told my parents that I wanted to transfer and move closer to home, but I was always told what you started, you finish. There are times when even my thoughts would go against my dreams, that’s when the support from family members, friends and peers helped me battle against the negative thoughts I gave myself sometimes. I just kept going.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who is still deciding whether or not a career in medicine is for them?
A: I think when one chooses medicine, it’s for a very personal reason. When I first encountered medicine it was just an instant click for me. I have never debated the fact if it was for me or not. Nor have I ever had somebody talk me out of it. I think if you’re debating if medicine is for you or not, you should really analyze what this journey is going to take, and what the purpose is. It’s quite the journey, a long, exhausting, rewarding, joyful journey. I think that’s where shadowing comes in too. If you shadow different specialties, you can really tell if it’s for you or not. If you see yourself there or not. I believe this is why medical schools tell you to shadow, for two reasons. For those who aren’t sure if medicine is for them, and also for those who are very sure that medicine is for them and use shadowing as a motivation for what they’re working towards. There were many times that I felt like giving up, but when I shadowed, I would tell myself, if you give up, you’ll never be here.
Q: What are some things you do to take care of yourself with a busy premed schedule?
A: I take at least one hour of break every day before I actually sit down and study. Meaning, I usually take one hour to myself after classes to do whatever I want (I usually take lunch) and then go back to the library to study, work on homework, or do whatever I need to do for that day. I think an hour a day to not do anything is healthy for the mind and body. I do this to prevent burn out. On Fridays, my schedule permitting, after classes the rest of the day is mine. I use this day to recharge completely. I also try to eat healthy, and get a certain amount of hours to sleep. Everything I do is calculated so I can handle it all.
Q: Who is a woman in medicine you look up to and why?
A: My aunt in Mexico. I think being Hispanic and female in a male dominant field is how I gathered the courage to do engineering as an undergrad. My mom would tell me stories of how she would stay up all night and study until she got it right. She wasn’t as dedicated in high school, because in high school they called her the average student who didn’t really put in effort to excel. In medical school she buckled down and put in the effort. I can relate, so I look up to her and how far she has gotten in her journey.
Q: As a woman in medicine, specifically a woman of color, have you faced any discrimination (either blatant or more subtle)? What advice do you have for women who go through similar challenges?
A: I haven’t faced much discrimination as far as medicine goes. However, my time as a minority female in mechanical engineering I have. In the job field I encountered it several times, as well as in school. What I always did was not take it personal. If you take it personal it hinders you from getting the job done. The only person that defines who you are is yourself, nobody else.
Thank you, Josselyn, for sharing your insight with us! We’re lucky to have you stop by our little corner of the internet. If you have any suggestions on women in medicine who should be interviewed as a part of this series, please leave a comment!