Student Spotlight: Personal Stories

Sarah Bunch

SarahBMedical Candidate, 2016. University of Illinois College of Medicine – Peoria
Secretary, Latino Medical Student Association LGBTQ Caucus
Member, Student National Medical Association – Peoria Campus

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Can you share your personal background and its effect on your interest in Medicine?
My desire to pursue a career in medicine was initially shaped by my grandparents health related experiences, and later solidified by my own personal experiences. My grandparents were all raised during the era of segregation in the Jim Crow South. Out of those conditions came a distrust of the medical field, especially since so few of the medical professionals they encountered were Black. I often heard my grandparents give voice to that mistrust: “doctors don’t ever seem to do right by our people.” Ultimately this lack of trust shaped their negative view of the healthcare system.

I moved around a bit as a kid, from L.A. to D.C. to Chicago, as well as spending many summers in the South. Moving from one community to another allowed me to connect the dots in terms of my grandparent’s experiences. I realized that regardless of location, there was a universal lack of justice for marginalized and underserved communities when it came to medicine. I kept this concept with me as I continued through college and beyond, always thinking about how medicine intersects with different communities and cultures. I knew that becoming a physician would mean providing so much more than healthcare – it was all about connecting with individuals, working to understand their experiences and how they have shaped their relationship to medicine.

What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of and encouraged by queer communities of color. There is something prideful and strong about a queer person of color. There’s this indescribable tenacity that I feel, being able to say I am a part of and work within this community. Maybe it has to do with grit, or ‘colorfulness’. Maybe it’s the unique struggle and resiliency that queer communities of color experience. It’s hard to explain, but it’s easy to feel.

I am also so proud of my grandparents for working to provide a better life for their kids. And of course my parents and sister – if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.

Have you had any issues being a minority and LGBT?
Being an LGBTQ person of color allows me to offer a different perspective and makes me part of a special community. That being said, many systems and institutions are not designed to support LGBTQ people of color or honor our unique experiences. Every day I wake up and am faced with issues around my two intersecting identities. Facing these issues has made me into a resilient, resourceful and creative person. I’ve learned how to handle the homophobia and racism I experience in my educational environments, and I’ve worked on challenging people to understand that I am more than my race and sexual orientation.

Having to strategically navigate my way through these tough situations has added to my skill set and made me a more competent, flexible and prepared future physician. My LGBTQ friends and family of color help to lift me up in the tough moments, and I know they are always here to support me.

What do you hope to accomplish once you graduate from medical school?
There is so much in front of me, so much to accomplish even before I graduate from medical school. I know that things don’t change overnight, and I am dedicated to starting conversations in medical school around how we educate students about marginalized and underserved communities, including communities of color and LGBTQ communities. Before we work in external communities, we must look within our medical school community to understand how we are trained and educated. I believe that we have the power to impact the medical school climate, bringing in diverse voices and experiences in the field.

I am committed to learning as much from my environment as I can and to propel myself into the next stages of my career. I want to leave both the medical school community and my current community in Rockford more challenged, open, and prepared for what comes next. I hope to continue strengthening the partnership between our school and our surrounding community, increasing the impact that we already have on the dynamic and rapidly changing Rockford.

Jessica AvilesScreen Shot 2014-02-27 at 11.55.37 PM

Medical Candidate, 2016. Hofstra University – North Shore Long-Island Jewish School of Medicine Co-Chair, Hofstra Latino Medical Student Association Chapter Co-Chair, OutMED
Physician Vice-Chair, LMSA LGBTQ Caucus

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What is it like to be Latina and Lesbian?

I like to joke and say that I am a triple threat – I’m a woman, I’m Latina, and I’m gay, but it can be challenging to have multiple identities. On the one hand, I feel like I am a part of something in that there isn’t much representation of Latina lesbians in the medical professions. Ideally, in the future there will be greater visibility of minorities who identify as LGBT, so that people can realize they do not have to choose which inspiration to be themselves.

What are you most proud of?

This year, through OutMED, I have taken a lot of steps to try to advocate for increased visibility of LGBT health needs within our curriculum and in extracurricular activities. It’s important to include LGBT patients outside of taking a sexual health history – there’s so much more to it than that. This year the faculty has put LGBT issues into written cases and standardized patient encounters. As a group, we have also tried to host informal events, for example, a transgender patient sharing his experiences in accessing health care and sharing common barriers to care. It’s a long process to develop an idea for change and implement it and I’m proud of the steps we have taken so far.

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Have you had any issues related to being a minority and LGBT?

I am lucky enough that I have not experienced any outright discrimination for being a minority or being LGBT within my educational experiences. If anything, it has provided me with opportunities to get to where I am today, for which I am very grateful. I hope in the future to be able to give back in a way that will help other minority students advance in the pursuit of their own careers.

What has been your career path so far?

I was always told by my parents to stop at nothing to achieve my dreams and that education is the most important thing. I’ve always been interested in sciences and have wanted to do something meaningful with my life. I went to Vanderbilt University, which was a completely different world to me, but I met some amazing people and had so many opportunities there to grow as a person for which I am very grateful. I knew that becoming a physician would allow me continue to be a lifelong learner and work in a profession where I could help people each day and feel a sense of pride for what I do. I’m still not sure what specialty I want to go into, but I think that staying open minded is the best way to find something that will be perfect for me. It’s definitely worked so far.

Joshua (JJ) Alvarez

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Medical Candidate, 2016. University of Illinois College of Medicine – Peoria
Student Chair – LMSA LGBTQ Caucus
Delegate, Latino Medical Student Association – Peoria Chapter

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What is it like to be Latino and Gay?

When I was younger, it was very difficult for me to grasp that I belonged to two minority groups. I grew up in an area that was at times very discriminatory towards Latinos and even more so towards people identifying as LGBT. In addition, my family is not supportive of anything associated with LGBT; however, the obstacles I faced in being true to myself did not last forever. I sought out my own advisors, mentors and support groups that all have been vital in helping me succeed. I have come to embrace the cultures of both communities I belong to. I look forward to the day when I can treat patients and advocate for those who may have had similar experiences.

What general advice do you have for other aspiring minority LGBT medical professionals?

When I was applying for medical school, my advisors told me to be very discrete and not divulge anything about my sexual orientation. My advice is: don’t believe that. Be professional, and be true to yourself. We are going into a field that was created to care for people from all walks of life, and thus, it is important for people to recognize that medical professionals come from all walks of life as well. The more patients can relate to you, the more they will trust you and listen to your advice.