Recognizing Your Past to Prepare for Your Future
Walking into my first day of class, I was nervous and excited for what this school had in store for me. Every student in my class had their own goals. Each one wanted to be successful and everyone came with their own backgrounds and personal stories. Little did I know that some students were beginning their podiatric careers trying to fill the shoes of their fathers and grandfathers who began their medical careers and excelled through this school. Another student moved across the country in order to live with her soulmate, only to be met by a cancer-stricken partner who would not survive to the beginning of the school year. Without directly talking to these students, I could not have known what they were going through. In the beginning of my schooling, I was rather distracted and focused on my grandfather suffering from metastatic kidney cancer. He would not live long enough to see me at my White Coat Ceremony, let alone finishing my first year. I did not know how I could overcome this tremendous loss, a loss that I never expected would come so soon. From past experiences with tragedy, I found that the one thing that would make me feel better is using my past to provide help to others who have their own internal conflicts. The students who made it to podiatry school were very fortunate. As my physiology professor would say, “There are people on the street who would do anything to be in your position right now.” I took this to heart and realized that there were other people who have not been granted the opportunity that I had to enter podiatry school.
There are people on the street who would do anything to be in your position right now.
Podiatry school, as seen in most forms of higher education, lack proper representation of minority groups such as African Americans and Latinos. I got involved with the Student National Podiatric Medical Association (SNPMA) during my first month at Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine. My goal was to work on improving the diversity in the podiatric field, along with going out into the neighborhoods of Philadelphia and meeting directly with people who may become my future patients. Everything that happened in the past of my classmates, led them to enter this great field. From the same respect, other people have had obstacles in their lives that have prevented them from entering this field, whether it was poverty, racism, or health inequalities.
I was determined to use SNPMA as a platform to promote increased enrollment of African Americans and Latinos into Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine. There have been studies showing that patients often prefer clinicians who come from similar backgrounds as themselves and are more likely to be compliant with doctor’s recommendations. My family tended to have Russian doctors because those doctors would understand the hesitancy that my family had with conventional medicine. In essence, increasing enrollment of these under-represented groups would improve treatment outcomes. I decided that I would have to use a multidisciplinary approach to accomplish my goal. I first discussed my goals for the club with upperclassmen, along with discussing current approaches with various administrative members who were also working on increasing the diversity of the incoming classes. Various undergraduate universities in Philadelphia and other colleges that had a large minority population were contacted to promote the field of podiatry so that medically-inclined students would know that podiatry is a great option for them. The results of this initial outreach but were not immediate and moving forward, I admit that there is still a lot of work to do in that arena. However, this effort did lead to the next two incoming classes having a much more diverse student population. There was a nearly 600% increase in the African American population within the podiatry program. The Foot and Ankle Institute at Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine appreciates the inherent value of having a diverse workforce and the benefit of having an African American representation within our group of clinicians that is more in line with our patient population.
Community service and leadership is another component of SNPMA. An annual trip to the Ronald McDonald House and participation in various community health fairs throughout the city are just some of the ways SNPMA donates its time and efforts to community service. The efforts for a trip to the Ronald McDonald House begin each year with fundraisers during Halloween and Valentine’s Day. The money fundraised go towards buying food that is prepared at an annual dinner at Philadelphia’s Ronald McDonald house, where the SNPMA executive board members serve as guest chefs. The Ronald McDonald house provides food and support to families who go through the unfortunate tragedy that involves pediatric cancers and other serious illnesses affecting their children. We, as a club, realize that even though we can not cure their children, we have the opportunity to feed them, lighten their load, and brighten up their day.
SNPMA have participated in community health fairs as well, where foot screenings and informative pamphlets are handed out to the large homeless population
Members of SNPMA have participated in community health fairs as well, where foot screenings and informative pamphlets are handed out to the large homeless population of Philadelphia. Representatives from SNPMA never have turned down an opportunity to help out the homeless population whether we joined the Community Service Club, Muslim Student Association, or put on a community health fair of our own. Treating the homeless is often an underappreciated area of podiatric medicine. It can often be a difficult task as well when the social and psychological impact of an unstable housing situation can negatively impact their health. During rotations in the clinic, I saw several homeless men and women who had to deal with chronic non-healing wounds, due to untreated medical conditions along with dangerous living situations. These patients were not able to buy new shoes or the supplies needed to adequately care for themselves. It was essential that their clinicians and the student doctors who examined them explained that there were various places and groups that could provide the care and assistance they need.
One event that SNPMA was invited to was the Webster Street Community Health Fair. This was a unique opportunity to visit the neighborhoods in West Philadelphia where one of the deans of Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine grew up. There were people in this community who did not realize the benefits they could receive from visiting a podiatrist. Dr. Robinson, SNPMA’s faculty advisor, was present during this health fair and she provided important health information. She also gave participants an opportunity to schedule appointments after getting an initial foot exam by students. Going out into the community allowed individuals to meet their local podiatrists in an environment in which they felt more comfortable. I saw how they interacted and joked with each other, and I was looking forward to seeing them in the clinic. One lady showed us nail fungus that she had for a while, and while listening to her life story, she mentioned an incident where she had a fracture in her foot that was never fully treated. This was not unique because a man that stopped by our table right after casually showed us his bilateral bunions that had severe osseous deformities. When we mentioned that surgery would likely be the recommended option to treat his pain, he told us he had avoided surgery because he did not have health insurance, nor did he know how to obtain it. These are the topics that I saw come up repeatedly on these trips, and they made me more understanding of patients who came into the office and initially appeared to be non-compliant.
In order to be able to better connect with my future patients, I need to understand the issues they experience at home, in their community, and in society as a whole.
I have lived a fortunate life that has allowed me to become a podiatric medical student. I realize that the lack of diversity seen in our class and in higher education is an issue that definitely needs to be addressed if we want our healthcare system to be the most efficient it can be. In order to be able to better connect with my future patients, I need to understand the issues they experience at home, in their community, and in society as a whole. There are many patients I see in the clinic that is disregarded and labeled as non-compliant or drug-seeking. I have had the experience of former drug users being assaulted and having a serious injury to their ankle or foot. Because of their past history of drug abuse, they had developed very low pain tolerance. In these cases, pain management needed to be a central component to their post-operative plan, and many times it took months to make an appointment with a doctor for that issue. That is one issue that has not been solved yet, but I hope to continue to search for ways that pain management can be built into every post-operative plan.
Through my work with the Student National Podiatric Medical Association, it is my goal to increase the African American student population at the school, along with providing health education to people in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia. Seeing the impact that I had, helped me feel better about the loss of my family member because I was able to take advantage of the opportunities I have received and ensure that I am not taking anything for granted.
by Samuel R. Gorelik, Fahad Hussain, Nicole Mosley
Title: Recognizing Your Past to Prepare For Your Future
School: Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine
Student Org: Student National Podiatric Medical Association
1st Annual Hallux Magazine Writing Competition – 2019
Hallux Magazine Writing Competition – Finalist
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