Not All Heroes Need to Be White

By Ethan Pineda

Imagine that right now you are currently a 53-year-old woman who was admitted to the hospital overnight. You spent the entire night in severe pain and in deep confusion as to what is wrong with you. When the doctors and nurses finally come to visit you in the morning, you realize then that you cannot understand what they are saying to you. You begin to realize that you cannot communicate with the team of professionals who are supposed to save your life. Luckily for you, there’s a 17-year-old teenage boy who just happens to speak the same language as you,  despite the other 7 medical professionals in the room with you. This seemingly random 17-year-old boy helps you feel comfortable and welcomed in the room. They explain everything to you. Tell you what the doctors are doing and why. You thank him when he leaves the room with everyone else.

Now imagine what would’ve happened if the 17-year-old boy was never in the room. What happens next? The potential for disaster is limitless. Being the 17-year-old boy in this story was truly shocking. How was it possible that at one of the premier hospitals in Chicago, that not a single person in the room could speak any form of Spanish? I never would have thought that I would encounter such a thing. While shadowing a physician, I watched this scene unfold in front of me. It’s just not something you can expect to happen. Our patient was clearly in deep pain and in need of desperate help. I could hear and see all the pain, confusion, and frightfulness she was experienceding. These instances are not one in a million. They occur so many times Similar situations happen often in my communityies. You hear it all the time in our family conversations. The dilemma of having to choose between a “good hospital” and a hospital where the staff can speak Spanish and look like us. 

We have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic the appreciation and recognition of frontline healthcare workers. However, as I scroll through my Twitter and Instagram feeds, I just can’t help but notice that in all these healthcare worker appreciation posts, I rarely get to see show a nurse of color being shown. Don’t get me wrong, I love and appreciate nurses just as any else. I just want to see more of my community and brothers and sisters be seen.

Now it’s not all about just the social media praise., this doesn’t Sometimes, POC just don’t get as much recognition as it they should. I live in Logan Square, a neighborhood located on the north side of Chicago. Logan Square is a historically Latinx neighborhood, however, due to recent gentrification, most of the Latinx community has been pushed more west of the neighborhood. For the Latinx community members that have been able to stay in the neighborhood, finding a clinic or hospital where we feel welcomed and safe is rather difficult. It’s not that the staff at these places aren’t capable, but when your nurse, doctor, or even front of office staff doesn’t look like you or the community you live in, there are already cultural and linguistic barriers. If there’s difficulty communicating your symptoms, feelings, and concerns, it makes receiving proper health care much more difficult. If a nurse is not fully trained in cross-cultural patient interactions, there’s room for errors and misunderstanding between nurse and patients. I mean, no matter how much training or textbook reading you do, nothing will ever be a substitute for a nurse of color. 

Some may look at this and think that this is just a minor inconvenience. A one-time experience. The reality is, I have no idea what would have happened to that woman if I was not in the room. The possibilities are endless. I canould only imagine the thousands all of the others who share similar experiences. This issue is a matter between of life and death and yet, it has become normalized within our communities. Change needs to happen if we want to see improvement in our communities. I aspire to use my skills, voice, and education to advocate for a more diverse healthcare workforce.


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