Monday, November 8, 2010

Interactions, expectations, perceptions.

In the past few months since rotations started, I've met a great diversity of people- much more  than I did in my 1st 2 years. This, of course, is not a surprise to anyone. The first two years were spent mostly in class with the same group of students. Now in effect, I'm exposed to what the real world of CT looks like- well at least a fraction of the real world of CT.

The interesting/ sometimes fun part of a being an African (or black) petite, looks younger than she really is female, is watching peoples reactions to me. Some people couldn't care less when I explain that I'm a med student. Others, mostly older black women, give me this amazing grin and tell me, in words or actions, that they're proud of me. A few people have asked, in direct or subtle ways how old I am and many quietly wonder if I have any idea what I'm doing or if my parents know that their baby is masquerading as an adult in a white coat.

Of all these reactions, one of the one that warms my heart most was an interaction, well a series of interactions I had with a 90 something y/o black woman. She was kinda cantankerous really, giving everyone around her a hard time. But she would listen to what I had to say with a smile that said "aww, look at this cute baby girl". And she told me, countless times, that she never believed that in her lifetime, she would see a young black woman doctor. She was amazed, she was proud and she was happy. You see, if I ever doubted if I could do this (and yes, I doubted myself often, especially in 2nd yr) I never doubted because I'm female, or African or black. I doubted because it wasn't always clear why I was on this path and if I wanted to remain on the path. Neither of those issues had anything to do with race or gender, but were wholly within myself. To this old lady though, the issue was a very different one. And I think that meeting her gave me a much greater appreciation of the perspective of older people of color in this country. 

I grew up in a time and place where there were no limitations set on me by virtue of my gender, size, height, skin color, ethnicity, nationality- nothing. I grew up knowing that I could go as far and as high as I wanted and as God would bless me to go. I never really thought about how the world perceives me in my journey towards this or any profession 

I'll be honest and say that most, in fact, almost all patients I've come across in my rotations have been perfectly nice to me and I've had some good conversations with some of them. Sometimes, I think that the medical team, the attendings, nurses, allied health staff, residents and even myself are the ones who are more likely to be loud, rude, condescending and irritated with patients.

But every now and then, the 90 something yr old African American lady, the 70 something year old Italian lady,  the 50 something year old African lady and the 30 something year old Caribbean man, the 16 year old Hispanic girl strike me a little differently and remind me that things have not been and are not always as cut and dry for others as they are for me. Even for people who may have been born in similar circumstances and times as I, the gifts, talents and opportunities I take for granted are not as blase as I think. So no, I'm not a super special case or anything, but I do have particular blessings that I need to share with others- even if means being a familiar young face or a familiar female face or a familiar black face. And sometimes, really, the thing that makes the difference is a smile between two people, regardless of who they are.

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