Stanford medical students Jecca Steinberg and Paloma Marin-Nevarez want to spread the word that service-minded medical students can care for underserved communities by specializing in surgery. With the help of their mentor James Lau, MD, they've created an upcoming seminar series for medical students called "Service Through Surgery," which showcases how surgeons can address health inequities.
Beginning in January, the 10-week course will expose Stanford medical students to a diverse group of surgical leaders who are passionate about improving health equity through surgery. I connected with Steinberg, shown on the left in the photo, and Marin-Nevarez to learn more.
What inspired you to create the "Service through Surgery" seminar course?
Marin-Nevarez: I emigrated from Mexico when I was 10 and settled in a low-income community in south Los Angeles. I never really considered myself disadvantaged until I went to college and experienced firsthand the shortcomings of my education system. Ever since, I knew I would make my life’s work to serve the underserved in communities like my own.
In my second year of medical school, I fell in love with surgery. However, when I thought about being a ‘community physician,’ I didn’t see how surgery would fit into that picture. The speakers in this course will show students with the same internal struggle as mine that they don’t need to compromise their values in order to pursue their dreams.
What role can diversity play in overcoming health inequities?
Steinberg: Low-income, minority communities continue to receive inadequate surgical services and bear unconscionable health burdens. Research has demonstrated that increasing diversity among physicians improves health care access and outcomes for traditionally disenfranchised communities, but surgery continues to trail behind other medical specialties in racial, socioeconomic and gender diversity. So the surgical workforce represents an underutilized resource for decreasing health inequities and improving the health of our communities.
Marin-Nevarez: A more diverse workforce leads to better outcomes for the underserved because minority patients are more likely to seek care from and be more comfortable with physicians from diverse backgrounds. And physicians from diverse backgrounds are more likely to treat patients of color in underserved communities.
What causes surgery to be less diverse than other medical specialties?
Marin-Nevarez: Because of unequal opportunities — especially for communities of color — surgeons are not as diverse as they should be. Because of this lack of diversity, there is a lack of mentorship that then perpetuates the cycle.
Mentorship can make a huge difference in recruiting people into a field. For example, Dr. James Lau is an amazing mentor — he was the first person to make me believe that being the first surgeon in my family may be an attainable goal. Those who ‘make it’ without mentorship most likely had access to extra resources or had to work much harder than their counterparts, or both.
How will your seminar course inspire change?
Steinberg: Our seminar course will create an opportunity for Stanford medical students to meet and form relationships with accomplished physicians who have combined their passions for diminishing inequities and surgery. It will show the incredible impact surgeons can make on their community. For example, Matias Bruzoni, MD, will talk about a clinic he created from scratch to improve the surgical experiences and outcomes of Spanish speaking patients. And Sherry Wren, MD, will provide her perspective on serving veterans domestically and populations around the world, exploring the adversity she faced in dedicating her career to social service.
When students connect with role models like these with a similar background and passions, they are more likely to follow in the trajectory of that role model and consider careers that might have previously seemed unattainable. We hope this seminar will provide that initial connection.
Previously: Educating the next generation of surgeons: A Q&A, Spanish-speaking families prefer surgical care in their native language, study finds, Stanford med student helps turn pediatrics waiting room into a center for school-readiness, and Women of Stanford Neurosurgery: A conversation on gender, race and mentors
Photo courtesy of Jecca Steinberg