By Natalie Torrente, OMS-III, University of Pikeville-Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine
While in the emergency room on a clinical rotation, I was confronted with the fearful sobs of a woman who was in excruciating pain. The woman spoke Spanish, and my attending physician asked me to use my skills as a fluent speaker to interpret their conversation. I conveyed the risks and benefits of emergency gallbladder surgery to the patient and her visibly distressed family. This simple gesture was met with smiles of gratitude and a small but obvious measure of relief.
As a first-generation college graduate and a child of immigrants, going to medical school was not something that felt remotely attainable early on in my life. Hearing stories about the substandard health care in underserved areas of the U.S. infused me with a strong desire to positively impact the health and wellness of the Hispanic community. During a summer in college I traveled to Costa Rica to examine the interrelationship between globalization and health care. Writing on matters I experienced firsthand, from the implementation of nutrition programs for the mothers in the Alajuelita community, to the poverty I witnessed while working in a health care clinic, I developed a sense of cultural awareness and a vast respect for alternative perspectives. This international experience heightened my desire to practice primary care medicine because of the diverse nature of the practice, and to help spur systemic changes in the under-resourced areas of the U.S.
The road to medical school was not an easy one. After graduating from Villanova University with a bachelor’s degree in science, I decided to strengthen my medical school application by attaining a master’s degree in science at the University of South Florida. In 2016, I was finally accepted to medical school, and suddenly, I felt the burden of the hundreds of thousands of dollars I was going to have to pay back when I graduated. As an individual who has always had a passion for internal medicine, which is a primary care specialty, I was comforted knowing that programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) exist to help me pay off my student loans in the future. Without programs like PSLF, many medical students may find it necessary to choose a medical specialty based off salary alone, possibly deterring them from pursuing primary care.
The PSLF Program incentivizes careers in public service by assisting qualified individuals as they work to give back to their communities. Without this program, individuals like myself who are driven to pursue primary care specialties may be forced to choose between their financial wellbeing and their desire to serve our country’s most vulnerable patient populations. Therefore, I urge Congress to #SavePSLF as they work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.