“Talk to everyone and make connections. You never know when the person you meet will help you.” -Rosamaria Dias
In today’s episode, we hear from Rosamaria Dias, a medical school student who has just completed her first year. Gabriella talks with her and learns about her struggles and strengths. You will be inspired by her passion for helping those who are underserved, by all the programs she is involved in and their missions, and by the way she sticks to her values and prioritizes what is important to her. Tune in as we get brilliant insight from the upcoming generation of doctors.
Rosamaria’s bio in her own words:
I am a first generation student born in Newark, NJ and raised in Elizabeth, NJ to Portuguese immigrants. This past year, I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Biological Sciences with a minor in Health and Society at Rutgers New Brunswick, graduating summa cum laude. I just completed my first year at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark where I am involved in the Ironbound Initiative, the Student Family Healthcare Center, and serve as the Community Outreach and Mentorship chair for the Latino Student Medical Association (LMSA). After graduation, I hope to continue to provide access to care to the undocumented/uninsured population and create a comfortable environment for my patients. I also hope to continue to mentor underrepresented students who might not have access to all the resources and continue to empower them towards careers in medicine. Some of my hobbies include working out, trying new restaurants, and spending time with my loved ones.
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Please enjoy the full transcript below-
Rosamaria: Talk to everyone and make connections. You never know when the person you meet will help you.
Gabriella: Hi, my name is Gabriella Dennery, MD, life coach for physicians at DocWorking. Welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast, and I’m so excited today, because we are actually, as part of our mission at DocWorking, bringing in voices of medical students, and their experiences, and what they see for their future. I’m excited today to bring my wonderful guests who has just completed her MS-1 actually, her first year of medical school, and entering her second one this fall, Rosamaria Dias. Thank you, and welcome to the DocWorking Podcast.
Rosamaria: Thank you for having me.
Gabriella: Thank you for being here, and thank you for adding that voice. Let’s start with your origin story. What made you decide to go down this path of becoming a medical doctor?
Rosamaria: It was a variety of things. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a doctor. But then, as I continued to grow, I moved around a little bit. I thought about being a lawyer, and then being a fashion merchandiser. And then, in high school, my bio-teacher was like, “Oh, you’re really good at science.” I was like, “Yeah, but I don’t really want to do it.” He was like, “Yeah, but you’re really good at it. So, you should try to go into the medical field and try it out.” I just started doing a whole bunch of medical programs. My medical school now, they have a high school program called the Mini Med. I did that for two years, and I loved it. I loved it so much, I was like, “Yes, this is definitely something I want to do.” Then, I continued on, and I volunteered at my local hospital. I did a program called the Medical Mentors. We visited basically every single specialty in medicine, and it was interesting to see the different dynamic of each. That was one way that it blends together.
What I didn’t realize at the time when I was in high school is that, I grew up with my grandmother in Portugal. I would go there every summer with my brother. She lived in a super farm-style town where there was no connection, the TV had four channels. Coming from the US, where we have access to everything, and internet at the snap of the finger, going there was like a culture shock. There wasn’t really much to do like kids here. We just had to be outside and have fun basically, because there was nothing else there. My grandmother, she was never able to go to school or getting an education, because of the time that she was born and just wasn’t allowed. But she just happened to be the town nurse. It was always so weird to me, because I saw her doing all this stuff, like homeopathic medicine that she had learned along the way. It appealed to me because I was like, “How was she able to do all of this with just so little?” I personally had dislocated my ankle, and we were in the middle of a mountain. There was absolutely no service, nothing. She just put my ankle back into place. Completely healed, perfectly fine. I have no issues with it now. Just that, to her using the little tools that she has to do so much, and she didn’t even know, how to read or write, or have a formal education was just really interesting to me, and pushed me towards that.
Then, I also shadowed a physician as well. He was a black physician. Most of his patients were also black. It was interesting to see their perspectives about the other doctors that they had been to. They loved him so much, and they were like, “Doc, listen to me. I went to this other doctor. He didn’t listen to me. He’s not giving me what I need.” He would go out of his way to get people to access that they needed. He would just really listen to his patients if they told him, “Listen, this medication is not working. I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it.” He’d be like, “Okay. Let’s try to work for you to get what you need, and get the medication that you need, even though you can’t afford it.” So, all of that was just really interesting and pushed me into medicine, and just to try to give everyone access to care, and truly listened to my patients, and move them forward.
Gabriella: That’s an interesting pathway. That just brings up a whole other line of questioning. I don’t want to let grandmother go just yet, because I just had this flash in my brain about you as a practitioner, gathering all these skills that you’ve learned even before going into medical school, the value of listening to patients, the value of representation, your patient being able to trust you, because you understand their experience and where they came from. To your grandmother’s wisdom, and how that would mix as you move forward in your own career, and in your own life, and perhaps your choices of specialty, or whether integrative medicine or other things. Anyway, I just had that flash and I said, let me put it out there for you, because that is such a fascinating story.
Now, that you’re in medical school, you’ve made that choice, you sent in your applications, and now, you’re in MS-1, and you’re starting in August, I guess. How did you find the way to deal with the pressures of being a first-year medical student?
Rosamaria: I applied early decision for my school. I found out that I got in about two months after I applied, and it was the summer right before my senior year. I had stressed out for three years to get to this point to where I am now. I told myself, I was going to take my senior year easy. I didn’t want to stress too much about it. Obviously, maintain my GPA and my grades, but I didn’t want to be as hard on myself or I didn’t really have the same pressure on my back that I needed to do this. So, I told myself that I would relax and really enjoy what I wanted to do. Then, unfortunately, COVID hit us in March. [giggles] We were all locked up.
But even then, I still just tried to do the things that I wanted to do, whether that was going out to museums, or hanging out with my boyfriend or my family, just really enjoy the things that I wasn’t able to do before as much. That was one thing, and then, there was a lot of chatter, and I was like, “Oh, I’m going to start studying before my first year in the summer, and all this other stuff,” and I felt, “Oh, my God. Am I going to be behind?” I felt pressure and just imposter syndrome, because I am a first-generation student. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
Gabriella: Did you find that studying ahead of time and all these wondering whether or not you should, is that something that you went for or you decided otherwise?
Rosamaria: I didn’t really study per se, but I did do a program in my medical school called First, which is for first generation students and nontraditional students mainly. Mostly, we were all minorities in that group. They just introduced it to us. There was some learning, but it wasn’t to the degree. It was just to introduce some material and build connections with the upperclassmen, and just build that, and try to figure out, what our study strategies would be. It was just really nice, because we also would hear from physicians in different specialties, and they would give us their input, just giving us an idea of what we would like to choose in the future. We heard from the anesthesiologist and her experiences, and just a whole bunch of inspiring stories that motivate us.
Then, we also, as a group, just maintain a really strong connection even into our first year. We had our own separate group chat. When we just reach out to each other, telling each other our grievances that we were feeling, like, “Oh, I’m feeling out of place. Oh, my mom’s not a doctor.” I feel so out of place in this group, or whatever, so on and so forth. It was just nice to have that unit that we could always relate to, and share because they understood what we were going through as well, and just make jokes and keep each other up to date on like, “Oh, this quiz is due,” or “Don’t forget about this exam,” and have a group to study with if we wanted to on Zoom,” because again, we were virtual. People would be like, “Oh, I’m having a silent library at this time. Do you want to join?” It was just having that community to relate to if we didn’t need it. So, even though I did a hardcore study, it was nice to do that program. I feel the connections that I built were more important than the actual material that was taught.
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Gabriella: I’m going to switch topics a little bit, because you’re involved in so much. First of all, that whole idea of support of staying connected as a way to help you stay encouraged during this first year, because I have no doubt, there were a lot of adjustments to make in this first year. And then, there are other ways, too, that you’ve managed to put into your schedule and I’m like, “How did you do it?” Your community work on top of your medical school work. Tell us more about that.
Rosamaria: As of right now, I’m involved in three different programs, I guess, you could say. The first one is the Iron Bond Initiative, which I got introduced to when I first started medical school. One of the upperclassmen that was involved reached out to me, because he saw that my name was Portuguese. He was like, “Oh, are you Portuguese?” I was like, “Yes.” [giggles] He told me that they were looking for Portuguese speakers to work with the community. Basically, what we do is, we work with Mantena Global Care, which is a center in Newark. We go there, and it’s basically we work with undocumented and uninsured Brazilian and Portuguese immigrants. We screen them. We give them a survey, and we ask them general questions, their weight, their height. It’s completely anonymous, they don’t have to put their name. We just screen them and give them the resources that we need. Again, most of them are uninsured. We give them the resources for them to get their foot in the door with healthcare, whether that be with our student and family health care clinic, or with the ambulatory care center, which is affiliated with University Hospital. We give them those resources so at least have the choice to go when they know how much they’re going to pay and everything. Then, we also hand out FIT kits. If they haven’t had a colonoscopy, we hand them out the paperwork and explain to them how to do it, and just let them know. Because the moment you tell them something, they’re like, “Oh, how much does it cost? How much do I have to pay?” which is a real fear. Most people are scared of going to a hospital, because they can’t afford it or because they don’t want to lose all their life savings, because they have to have a colonoscopy. We just try to ease their anxieties and explain everything to them.
St. Michaels has a pink program where they do pap smears and it’s free. They’re like, “Oh, is it really free?” I’m like, “Yes, it’s really free. You can go in.” It’s just connecting them to the resources and being in the first place where they can get their foot in the door with healthcare and feel comfortable when maybe they haven’t before. They’re also ask like, “Oh, do they speak Portuguese there?” I’m like, “Some of them might, but you can ask for an interpreter.” Just letting them know that there is an interpreter, there is a translator that they can reach out to. Language doesn’t have to be the barrier for them. That’s one thing that I’m involved in.
Then, as I mentioned, the student, family and healthcare clinic. This is a free clinic that is run by our school. It’s basically students in all years of medical school. Then, we have different responsibilities based on the year. Basically, they schedule appointments with patients who want to come in. It is a free clinic. We get to practice our skills, asking questions, and taking history, and being with the patient, and they get the care that they need. But again, it’s just another opportunity to allow people who again don’t have access to care come in. That’s another thing I do.
Then, the final thing is I work with the Latino Student Medical Association, and I’m the community outreach and mentorship chair. We also have another chair, Maria. We work with Newark high schools, and we give seminars and panels to the high school students. They ask us questions, and we just introduce them to the idea. It’s so nice, because I remember being a high school student and wanting to talk to someone who was in medical school, and I didn’t really have anyone until I did Mini Med. It’s just nice to provide them with that with someone they can actually talk to because again, most of them also are first generation. They don’t really know what they’re getting themselves into. So, that’s one part.
Then, we also work with MAPS, which is the Minority Association for Professional Sciences at Rutgers Newark. We work closely with their e-Board, and we host a whole bunch of programs with them. We just did a health conference with them. They have a huge health conference. We ran two breakout rooms. One was the application cycle. And then, we also ran the clinical case to introduce the idea of being in medical school and having a patient. But most of it is mentoring students. We’re running application mentorship program right now. We recruited two other mentors. It’s three of us working on it. We are just mentoring them on the application process, what they need, answering any questions they have, whether it’s the primary, the secondary, if they need any motivation, any encouragement to keep going, because I feel it is stressful. Especially with the pandemic, there wasn’t a lot of communication with the people in undergrad and us. A lot of it was virtual, and then, just the fears of now applying to medical school and wondering, “Am I going to get in?” The fear of rejection, so it’s nice to be a voice, a shoulder for them to lean on, and just express grievances, and ask for advice, and all of that. So, those are the three that I’m highly involved in.
Gabriella: Okay. [laughs] I’m absolutely not only just incredibly impressed. My next question for you is, how do you keep it all together with all these pressures? How do you prioritize what you do and why?
Rosamaria: For me, it’s basically based on why I wanted to be a doctor in the first place, again with my grandmother. My biggest goal is to provide access to care and care to people who don’t have it, like can’t reach it. That’s why I’m involved in the programs that I am involved in. I have a list of non-negotiables, which to me helps to maintain balance. Going to the gym is a non-negotiable. Regardless of what I have going on, I will go to a gym unless I’m super stressed, and it’s my choice to stay home and study. But I try not to do that a lot, because then, I just like go crazy. [laughs] I always try to maintain that and go to the gym.
Then, also education is really important to me, and I love to learn. I do obviously care about my school. Those two things come first on my list, and then of course, my family. If it doesn’t fit in with that, then I just let it go, or I’ll let them know like, “Oh, I can’t go today.” Just trying to set boundaries between my family, and school, and all that stuff, and the things that I want, it definitely helps me stay on track.
Gabriella: All right, I’m hearing having your non-negotiables, setting boundaries, and remembering why you’re doing this in the first place-
Gabriella: -as probably the things that keep you going and your love of learning. I think those are really four important points. But as you’re talking about all that you’re involved in, do you think that there’s a certain pressure on incoming medical students or medical students that are currently in medical school to be involved in all these different things in order to make it look good on a resume, or to further future concerns, or academic, or otherwise career concerns? Do you find that there is that pressure or not? Or, is this something that you decided to do for yourself?
Rosamaria: For me, I’ve decided to them because I wanted to. There were other things that I could have done. We have something called Cecil, which is community enrichment service, I believe learning. We’re required to do a certain number of hours, and we get to pick what we want to do. I just happen to choose things that I was really interested in. Certain things, I just wasn’t interested or just it wasn’t something that would like fill my cup. Again, these are things that I really like value and care about. My parents themselves dealt with going to physicians who didn’t understand or there was a language barrier. There’s people in my family who have been undocumented, and have gotten that huge bill from getting a surgery that they really needed, there was no choice. Now, they’re stuck with $20,000 that they have to pay and they can’t afford it.
So, I chose things that fit me and things that I was really passionate about. But I do feel that there is a pressure, especially being first generation. You’re always worried if you’re doing enough, or if you could be doing more. That’s something that I definitely felt in medical school, and then going through, I’m like, “Oh, this person has 20 publications. They’re doing research, and all these other things.” I’m just like, “Okay, should I be doing more? Is this enough?” I feel there’s always that pressure of, “Is this enough? Do I really belong here?” Trying to find your footing. But I will say, for me, at least it was just finding things that I was really passionate and just not letting that get to me. It was just, “Okay. They’re doing this, but I’m me, that’s not me. I don’t have 20 publications, but I care about the community for real.” It was just staying true to myself and not letting the chatter get to me. But I definitely feel there is a pressure to do more and just always be better.
Gabriella: Well, it sounds to me that you’ve made some very clear decisions about how you’re going to personally deal with this pressure that you’re not going to cave into, I have to do things this way, that you’ve said I’m going to make this my own and go for what you’re passionate about, and what you value, and what’s important to you, and what you have learned from your family, your upbringing, your grandmother, and incorporate all of that, I’m just so impressed. Because that takes a lot of guts and a lot of courage, and I want to applaud you for that. To be able to say, “Nah, this is not that important to me. Let me go over here because this is what’s important to me.” Bravo, bravo, bravo. Given all that we’ve talked about and given those kinds of things, you’ve talked about boundaries, and values, and passion, and going with what your heart tells you to go, and what is important to you, what would you advise incoming medical students about dealing with those types of pressures and how to manage those pressures?
Rosamaria: The first thing would be something that I struggled with, is being confident and being bold. Basically, we had a course on how to be a doctor, essentially, and they would always ask us to volunteer, and when I first started, I was so nervous. I was like, “Unless they call on me, I’m not going to volunteer.” I knew this stuff, my writeups are great, and I just wouldn’t want to volunteer. I was too scared. I just wasn’t confident at all. What I learned along the way is to be confident in myself. It’s okay to mess up. What I will say to incoming number one is, just be confident, be bold, and just take advantage of every single opportunity. There were things that I missed out on just because I missed the deadline. It was just something silly that I could have gotten, but I just missed a deadline, or I just wasn’t confident I was like, “Oh, maybe, I don’t have what they’re looking for.” Definitely, what I started doing midway that I wish I would have done in the beginning is, just take advantage of more and just be confident in myself.
The second thing I will say is balance. I feel it’s really, really easy to just sit down, and study, and just ignore everything else and be like, “Oh, I have to review 80 slides. We’ve learned so much today,” and just getting bogged down in everything.” For me, it’s just finding a way to organize that and just continue to do the things that I enjoy doing. Again, going to the gym, that’s something that I really enjoy, and not forgetting the things that fill your cup that you really love. For me, that was the community that I’m involved in and just going to the gym. So, that’s the second piece of advice.
The third one would be to talk to everyone and make connections. You never know when the person you meet will help you. I was on Instagram, and I actually followed this medical student. She was talking about how you never know the people that you meet, they’re going to speak in rooms that you’ve never been. That was just a really powerful quote that now, I’m just like, “Okay, that’s so true.” Again, just talk to everyone and try to build a connection, because you never know who you’re going to need, or how they’re going to help you in the future, or just provide you with any sort of thing that you may need, whether that’s research or, just an opportunity to work on something that you’re interested in that overlaps with what they’re interested in.
Gabriella: Rosamaria, thank you so much. This has been such an enlightening conversation, and thank you for your openness, and your willingness to share about your experience, and how you’ve made those decisions for you as you move forward. One last question. What do you envision for yourself in terms of your career moving forward?
Rosamaria: I don’t know what specialty I’m interested in yet. I would definitely want to be in a specialty where I can still maintain patient connection and still connect with patients. I still want to continue doing the things I’m doing now, basically, mentoring students. That’s one thing that I’m really passionate about. I feel like, if you see someone who went through the same things as you, I went to Elizabeth High School. There weren’t many people who decided to go to medical school or even be a physician. We had a handful of students. I feel like if you can see someone who’s like you who has immigrant parents who is a first generation, it motivates you to, you can do it. Definitely continue to mentor students.
Then, again, continuing to provide access to care for people regardless of their background, especially underrepresented. When I used to work at the hospital in my local city, there were so many people who would just wait until the last minute when they were on their dying table like, “Oh, let me go in now.” At that point, it’s too late. Just trying to provide access to care early and get them there, regardless, if they’re uninsured or undocumented, empowering them to get help and get care. Those are definitely the two biggest things that I want to continue to do moving forward, and making patients feel comfortable. I feel it’s really easy to go to the physician, because I definitely do it sometimes, and I’m just sitting there and I’m like, “Should I tell him that my toe is hurting? Should I?” Then, it’s like, “Oh, it’ll probably go away on its own.” You never really know. It could be something serious, and if you have that connection, and you trust, and feel comfortable with your provider, it’s easier to share those little things that might not be serious, but they could be serious. So, definitely creating a comfortable and trusting environment for the patients that I do have.
Gabriella: This is so amazing, and this is an amazing conversation. Thank you so much for being with us. A lot of wonderful wisdom, not just for medical students, for you, for the students coming after but for folks like me, attending physicians and beyond, who can learn a thing or two as well by what you talked about today. Thank you Rosamaria for being such a wonderful guest on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast, and I hope we can invite you again at some future date.
Rosamaria: Thank you for having me. I would love to be back.
Jill: Thanks all of you for tuning in to listen to this edition of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. We have something new and exciting to tell you about. So, I want you to hop over to docworking.com. DocWorking THRIVE is getting ready to launch in a very short time, and what that is, is a subscription service for physicians. It includes an excellent self-paced course called STAT that is all about quick wins for living well. It is group coaching, it is a Facebook group where you have a chance to connect to other physicians and coaches to ask questions about things that are happening in your life, and it also includes weekly video tips to come and give you advice on important things in your life. We’re really excited about this. The price is almost too good to be true. It’s so good, and I really think it’s going to be a fabulous support network for physicians. So, we hope you’ll hop on over. Check out DocWorking THRIVE today, and until next time, we’ll see you on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.
Amanda: Hello, and thank you for listening. This is Amanda Taran. I’m the producer of the DocWorking Podcast. If you enjoyed our podcast, please like and subscribe. We would also love it if you check out our website which is docworking.com. You can also find us on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and on Instagram. On Instagram, we are @docworking1 and that is with the number one. When you check us out on social, please let us know what you would like to hear on the podcast. Your feedback really means a lot to us. If you’re a physician with a story you’d like to tell, please reach out to me at [email protected] to apply to be on the podcast. Thank you, again, and we look forward to talking with you on the next episode of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.