Mentorship, a key towards success for Latinos in medicine
With the lack of diversity in the medical field, mentorship can go a long way towards an individual reaching their potential and achieving their dreams.
In any field of work, the value of support and diverse mentorship is paramount.
Particularly, in the medical field, which impacts people of all ages, races, and genders, diversity can literally be the difference between life and death because it can increase cultural competence towards patient care.
According to statistics from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), only about 5.8% of active physicians in the U.S. identify as Hispanic. However, more than 18% of the U.S. population is Hispanic.
This underrepresentation is glaring.
Dr. Natalia Ortiz-Torrent and Dr. Johanna Vidal Phelan are two local Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) members committed to changing this narrative and increasing the diversity of health care in the state.
In an article published in Philadelphia Medicine magazine, the two doctors shared the stories of their journeys into the medical field.
The common theme in each of their journeys was the importance the role of mentorship played in helping them advance towards their career goals.
Prior to being in her current roles as associate professor of psychiatry, chief of consultation and liaison psychiatry and medical director of Psychosomatic Medicine Clinic at Temple University School of Medicine, Dr. Natalia Ortiz-Torrent studied chemistry in college in her home of Puerto Rico.
That is, until her mentors encouraged her to take on other positions which, after years of dedication and hard work, eventually led to her arriving on the mainland and to Temple University Health System in Philadelphia.
Moving to a new country brought about many challenges — learning English, adapting to new cultures and financial struggles among them — but the support of her mentors played a huge role in helping her make the necessary adjustments to continue pursuing her career in medicine.
For Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan, she knew early about her desire to pursue a career in medicine. It was her own pediatrician who served as a valuable mentor to her during her formative years in Puerto Rico, before moving to the United States for school at age 17.
The experiences of learning the English language and navigating in a new country made things difficult, especially hearing a professor tell her that she shouldn’t apply to medical school because her English “was not good enough.”
However, it enhanced her passion to pursue her career in medicine. Her college mentor’s support helped her get accepted by a number of medical schools and would eventually lead her to her current role as a practicing pediatrician at Hamilton Health Center in Harrisburg.
In both instances, the value of mentorship shone bright in their journeys into their respective career fields.
Now Dras. Ortiz-Torrent and Vidal-Phelan serve as mentors themselves for the next generation of students pursuing careers in medicine.
“Our vision was to send a message to the students, physicians that are talented but need guidance, support and sponsorship,” Dr. Ortiz-Torrent wrote in an email.
Just as past generations of medical professionals paid it forward for them, they are taking the initiative to do the same for the next generation pursuing careers in medicine.