This October, I was selected to be one of less than 10 ECFMG-sponsored J-1 physicians to attend a three-day leadership development seminar held in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The seminar I attended was one of a series of eight planned in 2022 and 2023 that make up the BridgeUSA Leadership Development Program. According to its website, the program will host up to 200 total BridgeUSA participants and intends to “promote mutual understanding and lasting partnerships between emerging leaders from foreign countries and the United States,” give its attendees a chance to “collaborate and share ideas, approaches, and strategies to develop solutions to local and global challenges,” and create “a global network of like-minded professionals committed to creating positive change in their workplaces and communities.”
From my early days in medical school, I knew that I wanted to become a psychiatrist. My decision was met with mixed opinions from my family and colleagues, as stigma towards this specialty persists. But I’ve always longed to pursue a career in psychiatry and hoped to contribute to fighting the stigma and spreading awareness of mental health and illness. The exceptional approach psychiatry takes in exploring human behavior and the motivations that drive it is fascinating and deeply rewarding. It also provides a unique privilege to not only be part of the patient’s story, but also have a role in achieving a positive shift in their narrative.
I was born and raised in Costa Rica, a small country in Central America with close to 5 million inhabitants. I was always passionate about science, and after debating for a long time, I decided to pursue training in medicine. I did my medical school in San José, Costa Rica, at the Universidad de Costa Rica. I also completed a residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Critical Care in my home country.
Guatemala is a very diverse country; it is considered pluricultural, multiethnic, and multilingual. I grew up in Guatemala City and was raised in a very culturally aware family (my mother is a social scientist and my father is a public health specialist). In medical school, I took medical anthropology and learned of the importance of understanding local culture (the social behavior and norms in human societies) when treating patients. I did not know some of the concepts I learned in class would be so important in my personal life and career ahead. I took this class before and while doing a three-month community medicine rotation in one of Guatemala’s municipalities, San Juan Sacatepéquez. In this community, that is a 45-minute drive away from Guatemala City, we cared predominantly for patients of Mayan descent. In class, we learned about the Kakchiquel ethnic group, their culture and plural health system. We explored topics related to cultural change, cultural relativism, ethnomedicine, culture shock and ethnocentrism.