Ever go into something…a book, or a movie…so excited and expecting to love it, only to leave disillusioned and confused? I felt this way today after attending a lecture on diversity in medicine and research. Dr. Q is his name, and he is a fancy-pants onco-neurosurgeon from Hopkins who illegally immigrated to the US from Mexico in the 80’s and worked as a migrant farm worker until he somehow went to and succeeded in medical school. I say somehow because I haven’t read his book yet…….but I will.
I was shaking with excitement because I love an underdog story, and ever more when it comes to marginalized races/ethnicities. I myself am a URM….Under-Represented Minority. My grandparents and parents have a tale that could make up a trilogy. Cliff notes version: my parents (and uncles….and grandma) immigrated to the US from Peru when they were in their late teens/early 20’s and worked in the lowest paying service jobs to put food on the table. My mom had a dream…she wanted to go to school, and she wanted to be a physician. My dad was (and still is) an extraordinarily patient and supportive man. He worked as a taxi driver and in a restaurant for years to help put my mom through school (and give me a good upbringing when I came along). My grandmother also worked her ass off cleaning hotel rooms because she wanted to give my parents the best future possible. Humble beginnings.
The talk by Dr. Q was a bit all over the place. He jumped back and forth from talking about his family, his profession, his research, the growing number of Hispanics in the US and how that will affect future generations. He implored us to embrace diversity and improve the education of minorities. He felt very passionate about curing brain cancer, being there for his patients, and spoke about the most difficult part of his job…saying goodbye….death.
These are all things I completely agree with, respect, and inspire me. But as he spoke there was a lack of humility that tainted everything. I tried not to let it bother me. I tried to let myself become inspired and excited. But it didn’t happen. He said he teeters too much between confidence and arrogance. He likes his expensive leather chairs. He lives in a nice neighborhood with a beautiful home, 3 perfect kids and a wife.
Great, we get it. You are a huge success. You’ve been on tv and radio. You’re kind of a big deal…..you have many leather bound books and your place smells of rich mahogany. We get it.
I guess I kind of appreciate him being honest about being arrogant.
But…but…… What happened to those humble beginnings? Does he feel entitled to be less humble because of his difficult past and how much he has overcome? I don’t think that’s a good excuse.
He said he hadn’t thought about disparities in health care until after he was already a surgeon and he was asked in an interview how many Hispanics he sees. If he thinks there was a disparity. He couldn’t answer the question. So yeah, after being all caught up in his biomedical research he switched gears and published some papers showing that there IS a Hispanic and African American disparity in the neuro-oncological care given. But only after he was asked to think about it……
You would think given his minority status and his background, something like this was at the forefront of his mind. It sure is with me. I am 24….I’m not an MD (YET)….I’m not in medical school (YET). But I think about this all the time. Racial/ethnic/socioeconomic disparities bother me. They have bothered me ever since my grandmother, who didn’t speak English, encountered her own cultural barriers to health care. I was 10.
You would think a migrant farm worker-turned-surgeon would have that much more inspiration and passion for such a topic. Yes, it came later in life. But what was happening before that??
He got caught up in the numbers. That’s my hypothesis. I have no doubt Dr. Q cares fiercely about his patients and disparities. But somewhere along the way he lost his humility, and maybe lost sight of the bigger picture and got caught up with # of publications, # of patients seen, # of procedures, # of people on his team, #$, # of fancy leather chairs he can sit in.
To top it off…..he said he had completely forgotten about his roots. Where he came from. Giving back. Only recently has he started a mission to bring the fanciest “most complex and advanced brain surgeries to 3rd world countries”. Dr. Q…..why didn’t you do or even think about this sooner? You realize it doesn’t have to be fancy? How …how could you forget about your roots? How could you forget about how you lived……the people that still live there, and their continued difficulties? Yes, you have rectified it. But how could you forget all that?
This brings me to my med school interview that I had yesterday here in my own institution. My first interviewer was, to put it plainly, one of the most incredible people I have ever met. He was a professor emeritus, long time retired physician and we shared a vision of what the future of medicine is and what kind of physicians are needed. We talked about the difficulties physicians experience in the profession. He grew quite and looking straight into my eyes nearly into my soul he said “You will struggle. You will struggle with the numbers, the other side of medicine. The way you feel now, never lose that. Never. Its not like the good old days. It was simpler then. Now you have to see more patients, do more procedures, publish more papers, know more things. Don’t forget why you are doing this.”
Dr. Q is a great man and he does great things. I hope he doesn’t get caught up in the numbers again.
My mother. We have a complex and often tense relationship. But when it comes to medicine, there is no better example. I may want to rip her eyes out sometimes, but she is the type of MD I want to be like. She didn’t get caught up in the numbers. That is why she is no longer here in my hometown and in Jacksonville instead. She cares so much about her patients, and her past keeps her humble and pushing the envelope when it comes to racial/cultural disparities.
She hasn’t forgotten the feeling. Neither will I.