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The power of social media: Latina DO uses her following to champion diversity

Stephany Giraldo Eierle, DO, MPH, leverages her sizable Instagram following to advocate for diversity in medicine and honest discussions about mental health.

Stephany Giraldo Eierle, DO, MPH, a Latina first-generation American and a PGY-3 in the University of Massachusetts Chan Worchester Family Medicine residency program, has a strong social media following on Instagram. In this edited Q&A, she discusses how she uses her platform to be a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion, public health and mental health.

How did your cultural roots foster your commitment to health care?

My parents immigrated from Colombia with no more than a high school education and limited resources. We grew up in multifamily house and had a low income and low-English proficiency background with a strong presence of our Latino roots. The primary language in our household was Spanish.

Growing up, I saw how children translated for their parents in many settings, including in health care. My parents taught me to help others, and I found that a career in medicine would allow me to do that.

I was the first person in my family to go to college and the only one to go into medicine. I got a degree in psychology and a Master of Public Health. During that time, I did a lot of philanthropy work in helping vulnerable populations.

Because I didn’t have any mentors in medicine, navigating my path to medicine came with its own challenges. While I was learning how to get into medicine, I had to help my parents understand this process since they did not understand the education system. They were always very supportive in all my endeavors.

Stephany Giraldo Eierle, DO, MPH

What are some solutions to increasing the diversity in medicine?

Some solutions to the disproportionately low representation of physicians from minority backgrounds is to get diverse students into residencies, making safe spaces for them and changing the way we recruit. My residency program has two different committees to achieve these solutions.

The SOAR: Structural Oppression and Anti Racism Committee is a curriculum-based effort to educate residents and faculty on the issues being faced. We have affinity groups for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ+ individuals. These are safe spaces where we can share the macro- and microaggressions we have faced and the secondary trauma we faced by seeing people who look like us experience these aggressions. In our People of Color Affinity Group, we’ve managed to connect with other health care professional schools.

I am also co-director of our Diversity and Recruitment Committee. We look for ways we can give diverse applicants a fair shot and recruit them. In fact, our new class of interns is actually one of our most diverse! Our efforts really seemed to make an impact this year.

How do you foresee residency programs changing and becoming more inclusive?

It’s time that our residency programs resemble the rest of the population. We are an increasingly diverse nation. Research has shown time and time again that patients prefer physicians who look like them or understand their culture. Diversity brings about much-needed insight and change.

It’s also important to note that simply accepting diverse applicants isn’t where this work ends. We must also provide additional support and acknowledge that these applicants will be facing challenges daily that their counterparts will not – making their path much more difficult.

Further, regarding the DO recruitment bias in residency programs, there is absolutely no reason for there to be a stigma against DOs. I am thankful to be at a program that doesn’t just accept DOs, but also appreciates them and the skills they bring to caring for patients.

I know the stigma still exists in some programs, but the truth will always be that your title does not define you as a physician. Your empathy, skills and medical knowledge do. A degree doesn’t give that to you. You work for it.

How did you find and use your voice in advocacy?

Finding my voice and speaking out on what I saw as unjust did not happen overnight. I learned that by being persistent on issues important to you, the right people will eventually hear it and things will change.

One of my proudest advocacy achievements happened my intern year. At my residency program’s health center, 50% of the patients speak Spanish, but I am the only Spanish-speaking provider within my program. We did not have an onsite translating service for this population but did have onsite translating services for other, less common languages.

I began a conversation on how we could meet this need, and we started a petition that got 180 signatures. Our efforts resulted in senior management hiring onsite interpreters for our Spanish-speaking population. Clinic providers report that it has been a game changer in delivering quality patient care.

Seeing some of the advocacy work I’ve done come to fruition and make an impact has been very fulfilling. I’ve learned that you can make a difference if you don’t give up. We need advocates to keep pushing to serve the needs of our communities and resolve issues we see as unjust.

Why are work-life balance and mental health prominent themes in your social media posts?

When I realized that I was not the only one in medical school who developed severe anxiety, I also realized no one was really talking about it. I found that being more open and vulnerable on social media can help others feel less alone.

We as physicians and physicians in training need to look out for each other and advocate for changes that will promote a better work-life balance. If we don’t, then at some point we will burn out or have debilitating emotional burdens. Experiencing the struggles that come with medicine doesn’t mean you’re not meant to be a doctor. It is so easy to feel alone and that there is no hope. It’s just not true, so I encourage these conversations.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

My journey as an underrepresented minority in medicine with mentors who guided me along the way

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One comment

  1. Charles Cook, DO

    It is very satisfying to see a young family physician that has structured her training in such a healthy manner. No burn out if you make your own family your priority. I have for 40 years. Still married with four children and four grandchildren. STAY TRUE TO YOUR HEART.

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