Speaker Spotlight: Dr. Yohualli Balderas-Medina Anaya

As a first-generation student in college and medical school, my experience was very different from that of many classmates, and today, as the only Latina in our core residency faculty, I am still forging an uncharted path.
Dr. Yohualli Balderas-Medina Anaya
July 14, 2020

Dr. Yohualli Balderas-Medina Anaya, an Assistant Clinical Professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, presented research evidence demonstrating the severity and depth of the Latino and Spanish- speaking physician shortage during our most recent virtual panel, “Addressing the Latino Physician Shortage”. To address the shortage moving forward, Dr. Anaya offered policy solutions to increase Latino representation in medicine, one of those being to coordinate, expand, and fund pipeline programs for underrepresented students.

We asked Dr. Anaya a few questions about her background, structural determinants of health, and the importance of diversifying the physician workforce.

How has your background shaped your goals as a physician?

I was about 7 years old, and I was sitting on the exam table, my mom in the chair nearby. My pediatrician, a kind, solely English-speaking community doc, was interviewing me for my well-child exam. My mom, a monolingual Spanish-speaker had no choice but to rely upon a 7-year old for translating services. My pediatrician asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” In a heartbeat, I proudly replied, “a doctor!” Even as a 7-year old I acutely understood the role I could take if I became a physician for an immigrant Latino community like this one. 

This was one of many moments in my life from which a deep desire to join the ranks of the physicians my family and community sought care from was born. Some instances were not as joyful, but all these experiences further informed my understanding of why cultural- and language-concordance matters. It is this personal narrative that shapes not only my goals and passions but also the way I connect with my patients on a day-to-day basis. 

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your professional trajectory?

The road to becoming a physician requires a lot of sacrifice and dedication. It also requires a great deal of opportunities and immeasurable generosity from mentors and advisors along the way. I wouldn’t have achieved what I have without the timely opportunities and instrumental support I’ve received from my teachers and mentors. As a first-generation student in college and medical school, my experience was very different from that of many classmates, and today, as the only Latina in our core residency faculty, I am still forging an uncharted path. Being a first-gen, immigrant, and female faculty member has been a humbling experience that I’ve greatly cherished. The moments I’ve had when my students or patients express their gratitude for my presence as their Latina faculty member or physician, are cherished yet bittersweet, for they are reminders of how far we have yet to go in academics and medicine. 

In your work, what do you see as the biggest challenge to health equity in underserved and marginalized communities?

As a physician we have great power to give voice to our patients and communities. Yet despite this power, there are times when we feel powerless in the face of the structural barriers to health that our patients face. The challenge at hand is identifying the most effective ways to collaborate across disciplines and professions in order to address structural racism and discrimination, economic and educational disadvantages, and to inform policy that addresses these issues alongside addressing the issues of equitable access to quality healthcare. 

In particular, how is COVID-19 impacting the communities you work within?

Social distancing is a privilege and as a physician who serves the Los Angeles area I’ve been able to see first hand the disparate exposure risk patients have, and from which racial/ethnic minority patients have disproportionately been affected. I worry often about my patients who are unable to isolate in a safe home, unable to work remotely, or sustain a monthly income in the face of this pandemic. 

How can diversifying the physician workforce improve health equity in marginalized communities?

Physician workforce diversification plays a key role in the ability of the healthcare system to serve an increasingly diverse population. The success of our health care system and of our efforts in health equity depends on the bringing together of diverse voices in leadership. We require diversity in ideas and peoples to brainstorm and effectively implement interventions that adequately address the structural determinants of health and help us achieve health equity for all.  

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