Arts and Poetry, Featured, Journeys in Education, Racism and Discrimination, When the Coat Comes Off

The Blue Collar Underneath

I do not deserve this white coat.
And I refuse to believe that
entering medicine has not left me ostracized.
Deep down I know
my blue collar upbringing is not common
I remain adrift among white coats and whiter collars.
I deny the thought that
my diversity is my foundation.
“I will never fit in”
No longer will I ever say
I deserve to care for those in need.

Read from bottom to top.

As a child of two Filipino immigrants, I was raised in a culture that valued hard work. This was one of the few virtues that we could hang our hats on, given how my parents grew up in poverty and I was raised primarily on a single parent income for most of my childhood. Aspirations of entering medicine were always enticing as a kid growing up in rural Washington state. I coveted the ideals of compassion, empathy and healing. However, as I embarked upon my pre-med and medical school journeys, I soon realized how different my upbringing was. My time in medical school was ostracizing as I was surrounded by peers with family lineages of physicians and those that were conditioned from a young age to excel in academia. For the most part, interacting with individuals from this white collar culture felt like foreign territory; I experienced imposter syndrome and felt ashamed of my blue collar upbringing for many years. There were many instances during classes and in the library where we as medical students would talk about our lives and upbringing. In these scenarios I felt subconsciously judged as I would have to explain that my parents were not graduates of higher education and that we did not have the financial flexibility to attend private schools and internships. I felt crushed in these situations and I would commonly go out of my way to avoid them as much as possible. These initial feelings of doubt and shame are conveyed when reading the poem from top to bottom.

While reading the poem in reverse order, however, the reader can now see the development of my feelings in the present day. Taking the time to talk to patients and seek out mentors and peers who are equally as diverse has helped me embrace my unorthodox background in medicine, while empowering me to use it as a bridge to foster better patient relationships. This poem symbolizes the diversity that healthcare providers bring to the field, and it teaches not to be ashamed of diverse upbringings. The more those differences can be appreciated, the better providers can be at influencing the next generation of healthcare workers regardless of collar color.

Image credit: forest by barnyz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Ervin Anies, MD Ervin Anies, MD (6 Posts)

Resident Physician Contributing Writer

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

Ervin (Erv) is beginning his general intern year at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and recently graduated from the Uniformed Services Univerity of the Health Sciences in May 2022. While in medical school, he was the co-director for the on-campus peer-led curriculum aimed to foster conversations about diversity, bias, discrimination, and inclusion in both medicine and the military. His interests include medical education, promoting diversity, and utilizing the arts to augment the healing nature of medicine.