By Dr. Jairo Noreña
My journey started in Colombia, my home country, where I attended medical school. After getting my medical degree, I had the opportunity to work with underserved communities. I had to do a lot with little and I came to understand the impact of social disparities on health. The reality of the meager resources available in this environment necessitated that the resourcefulness of physicians was the primary tool to achieve optimal patient care. This experience shaped me into an innovator in the field of medicine. I could not have gotten where I am today without being different and thinking outside the box. I would like to share three moments in my career where this proved true.
I was a primary care doctor in Colombia when social media was gaining steam in the 2010s. I decided to post Instagram and YouTube educational videos for my patients. The initial topics included diabetes care, insulin administration, and home remedies to properly treat hypoglycemia. The videos made a huge difference in my patients’ care, as they had access to a trusted source of medical information through an easily accessible medium. At this time, doctors were not on social media, so this was considered by my colleagues to be an unconventional approach. Nevertheless, my project gained momentum, and I soon became one of the first doctors in Latin America to produce successful medical content on social media. In subsequent years, this became a wider trend, and it became clear to everyone that the representation of doctors as authorities on social media matters. I learned that I should not be afraid to be different and try new approaches in my care.
It was early 2019, and I was working with the most extensive home health hospital in Latin America. I was challenged to find solutions to improve coverage and care capacity in rural areas. With the help of my team, I was able to adapt a technology created for war to address civilian medical needs. We created and implemented a telehealth kit that allowed our patients to have a complete telehealth experience with synchronous video and audio communication, a remote physical examination that included lungs and heart auscultation, an endoscopic USB camera for ENT evaluation, and wireless blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and oximetry measurements with continuous cloud monitoring. This technology was deployed in the country’s major cities and played a significant role during the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the viral exposure of healthcare workers, increasing patient care capacity, and allowing early detection of medical complications. In this instance, a technology that I helped develop mainly to care for underserved communities ended up helping everyone, which brought home to me how important addressing the needs of underserved communities truly is.
After the satisfaction of contributing to my country’s healthcare system at such a critical juncture, I came to the United States ready to face the challenges of residency. My training at Eastern Virginia Medical School gave me a solid foundation to provide high-quality patient care. I was one of the only two Hispanic residents in my class; this allowed me to provide culturally sensitive care to Spanish-speaking patients and create connections with them. I saw firsthand why diversity in residency programs matters. Latinos are almost 20 percent of the U.S. population, but only 6 percent of doctors in the United States are Latino. With more representation, we can improve patient care.
Today, I am a few months away from graduating from my internal medicine residency. I recently completed my certification in obesity medicine at Columbia University to obtain a double board certification, and I have successfully matched for an endocrinology fellowship at Stanford University. My social media project reaches over 300,000 subscribers on YouTube and Instagram, and I regularly partner with local and regional news channels on the East and West Coasts to educate Hispanic communities.
With a firm conviction that representation matters, and that diversity strengthens medical care, I am ready to thrive in the endocrinology field, deepen my understanding of cardiometabolic conditions, and connect with people to find telehealth and media solutions to continue advocating for underserved and Hispanic communities in the United States and Latin America. I encourage you to embrace the ways you are different; I have found in my career thus far that thinking outside the box is the best way to innovate and effect positive change in health care.