“ Your culture is a strength, not a barrier, so take your culture and apply it to every aspect of your journey. My advice to all my fellow brothers and sisters is to continue to dream without borders. I challenge the Latinx community to ask yourself: If not you, then who? ”Ariana Carrillo-Ortega
Occupational Therapy, Class of 2023
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
“Ustedes fueron parte de la generación de sacrificios, y yo soy parte de la generación que va a demostrar que sus sacrificios valieron la pena”.
To me, Hispanic Heritage Month means appreciating the sacrifices my parents, friends, ancestors, and community have made so I can be in the position I am today. Hispanic heritage centers around my core values; it’s what defines me and drives me. This month is about bringing awareness, highlighting current and future contributions of all Hispanics, and embracing our diverse culture. It’s a time to celebrate my Mexican roots and educate others without shaming them, but also a time for myself to learn about other Hispanic cultures. Although several countries are often lumped together, there are vast differences in the type of food, music, clothing, games, and customs. There is always something to learn!
Discuss your background a little and what made you decide to get into the healthcare profession.
Healthcare disparities have no boundaries. They can permeate into every field, and have a compounding effect throughout services provided. During my childhood years, my mother sought treatment from health professionals, and support resources were not readily available, which limited her options on where to turn for treatment. For my mother, filling out patient information forms and answering prescreening questions seemed nearly impossible due to linguistic barriers and lack of medical terminology proficiency. The responsibility of translating those questions, forms and later prescriptions information fell on me at merely eight years old. The complexity and unfamiliarity of these circumstances led to possible misinterpretation during translation and further diminished the ability of my mother to make sound decisions. The accumulation of these events ultimately led to a reliance on medication, masking the root cause of her condition. Not only has this heavily impacted my mother, but it transformed my perception of the health care system..As a child, I felt hopeless and saddened by the circumstances we faced, and since then, I knew I needed to help those being underserved in my community.
Occupational Therapists possess a wealth of information on the body’s mechanisms and psychological aspects important to rehabilitative treatment and interprofessional collaboration. The holistic approach of using occupations is differentiated from other practitioners by aiding people across the lifespan to do what they need and want through integrative techniques of daily activities. It is alarming that occupational therapists can serve in many sectors of the community, yet people are still deprived of accessibility and awareness of occupational therapy. This lack of knowledge can be attributed to the disparity in health literacy amongst those of varied racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. I aim to change that.
Are you the first in your family to go into college/graduate school/medical school? If so, what challenges did you face?
Yes, I am the first in my family to go to college and pursue graduate school, but I won’t be the last. Applying to graduate school is nerve-racking for any student but my personal circumstances made it specially challenging. I had worked so hard to earn the grades, put in time volunteering and countless shadowing hours and possess the personal attributes of the ideal candidate for graduate school. Yet, the biggest concern was whether universities will even consider my application due to my visa status. This was probably the most stressful stage of the process.
What was it like to get accepted into Midwestern and what does that mean to you (and to your family)?
Being a first-generation immigrant, a person of color, and from a low-income class, the odds were stacked against me. Throughout my childhood, I’ve witnessed my parents sacrifice their time away from my sisters and me to work multiple jobs in order to give us a better life. They have missed many milestones in our lives and sacrificed any chance at living their own.I’ve come to realize that all people regardless of their race, abilities, or socioeconomic background should be included, respected, and treated fairly. Growing up in this type of environment fueled my desire to succeed at all costs. It strengthened my appreciation for a greater quality of life and well-being for all. If not for the sacrifices made by my parents and the tough choices they had to make, I might not be in the position I am now to make a difference in the lives of others. Getting into Midwestern means more to me than a personal accomplishment. This acceptance to me represents opening doors for people like me, for those that never got the chance, and for all future generations to come.
I want to share this poem that my father has shared with me ever since I was younger, and I think it captures all the sacrifices my family, ancestors, and community have endured to get this acceptance.
“Hay mujeres que luchan un día y son buenas. Hay mujeres que luchan un año y son buenas. Hay mujeres que luchan muchos años, y son muy buenas. Pero hay mujeres que luchan toda la vida: esas son las imprescindibles”
After you graduate, what are your plans?
Looking back on my life experiences and understanding the concepts of kinesiology affirm my decision of occupational therapy as the appropriate platform for reducing healthcare disparities and increasing awareness. If strategies and protocols were put in place16 years ago, my mother may have had a more favorable experience and possibly a more effective outcome. As an aspiring occupational therapy practitioner, I believe this can be achieved by asking questions, expressing interest, considering patients’ values, identifying their volition, and keeping the terminology simple. In conjunction with practicing occupational therapy, I aim to be a State Health Board member to improve justice, altruism, and equality by creating policies that embody the holistic approach of occupational therapy. Requiring healthcare practitioners to provide patient forms/pamphlets in multiple languages, maintain interpreters on staff, improve the explanation of medical terminology and providing transportation are a few of the many ways policy can be aimed to bridge the gap in accessibility. With this opportunity bringing me one step closer to my goal, I will fight until the voices of the underrepresented are heard.
Any advice you'd like to give to other students who come from a similar background?
Life unfolds in many unexpected ways, but it’s important to remember that no matter how life unravels, you must stay true to yourself. Your culture is a strength, not a barrier, so take your culture and apply it to every aspect of your journey. I highly encourage you to challenge current norms that are embedded in the healthcare system, because, after all, the United States is a melting pot and everyone has a human right to quality healthcare and education. Although I have lived in the States for several years now, I am still heavily immersed in Mexican customs and traditions. It is because of my upbringing that I understand the importance of culture and diversity and have begun to see the impact that cultural incompetence has on patients’ health. The non-visible aspects of culture such as values, beliefs, and communication styles are critical in providing effective treatment in the occupations of daily living and quality of life. The lack of cultural awareness, along with other factors in the healthcare system, creates a divide in the level of care among the U.S. population. My advice to all my brothers and sisters is to continue to dream without borders, and I challenge the Latinx community to ask yourself, if not you, then who?
Ariana Carrillo-Ortega is a Class of 2023 Occupational Therapy student on the Downers Grove Campus.