BronxTimes Op-ed: AMSNY’s Diversity in Medicine program is making my career possible

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Aaishah Francis, pictured here, is an aspiring doctor in the Associated Medical Schools of New York Diversity in Medicine from the South Bronx.
Aaishah Francis, pictured here, is an aspiring doctor in the Associated Medical Schools of New York Diversity in Medicine from the South Bronx.
Photo courtesy Erin Clarke

Seventeen years ago, I came to New York as an undocumented single mother with nothing but blind hope and a dream. Now a resident of the South Bronx, I am on my way to becoming a doctor.

The Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMSNY) Diversity in Medicine pipeline program is making it possible. When I successfully complete the one-year post-baccalaureate curriculum at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Buffalo, I am guaranteed a place in medical school this summer. This is a life-changing opportunity for me. 

Becoming a doctor is how I want to help my community. The South Bronx is one of the poorest areas in New York City. There are signs of economic inequality and health care disparities everywhere, especially for women, more so for Muslim women, like me. I want them to see someone who looks like them, sounds like them, intimately understands their experiences and can provide the care they need. 

Research has shown that patients prefer medical providers who understand their language and culture and are more likely to visit and follow the instructions of doctors who share their racial or ethnic background. Yet in New York State, where more than 30% of the population identifies as Black or Hispanic, just 13% of the state’s physicians come from those groups. Even fewer are Muslim. 

There is another reason I want to be a doctor. My eldest son, a 13-year-old 8th grader with no known medical problems, went into cardiac arrest, collapsed, and died while playing basketball on a middle school playground in 2009. This impacted me deeply and as a physician, I hope to find ways to prevent deaths like his. 

When I was selected for the AMSNY program, I felt like Charlie Bucket winning the golden ticket in Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” In addition to courses to help me prepare for the rigors of medical school, I receive a stipend to help pay my living expenses. I don’t have to worry about paying my rent or putting food on the table. As a student parent I have been able to keep my 10-year-old daughter with me and I have had access to program resources that made it easy for me to navigate student life as a mom. There are always people ready to point me in the right direction. Additionally, there will be scholarship opportunities for medical school. This amazing program is 100% state funded. 

Many in the AMSNY program will go into primary care and practice in underserved communities like the South Bronx, where they are desperately needed. It’s important that future doctors like me return to these neighborhoods that are filled with people who suffer from chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and asthma. They need the same level of care  and commitment that others in more affluent, predominantly white areas receive.

This is why I am immensely grateful to the state legislators and Gov. Kathy Hochul who make the AMSNY program possible. In the past two years, the state has tripled its investment in diversity in medicine programs. This funding must continue and even increase so more people like me can become doctors. We want to give back to our communities.

Aaishah Francis is an aspiring doctor in the Associated Medical Schools of New York Diversity in Medicine program. A Muslim woman and single mother from the Bronx, she plans to come back home to the borough to treat people like her. 

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