Estevana Isaac, MSIII
My voice often feels muffled. People say I mumble. I come off as shy, hesitant and quiet.
“I can’t hear you.”
That was a lot of my feedback growing up. And now I wish I could tell you that adding my opinion comes natural to me. As a training physician, I still think about the consequences of criticism, rejection and conflict in both my work and personal life. To be honest, as a black woman, my opinion has never been as rigorously sought as it has been now. But what muffles it? Is it the system, my superiors, my peers or is it me?
I remember when President Obama first won the election in 2008. I was anxiously sitting in the lounge of my undergraduate dormitory. At the University of Pennsylvania, my peers and I represented a minority and now we suddenly mattered – a black president. For the night, we had a voice. We forgot about the divisions between race and class. We forgot our opinions were not that of the majority.
Eight years later and two successful terms in office, we now have the opportunity to witness another historical stride. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been a forerunner in the Democratic Party and the first female candidate to gather this much support in presidential elections. In February 2016, she visited us here at our institution, Meharry Medical College.
I witnessed the diversity of supporters that flooded the ballroom of The Cal Turner Family Center for Student Education. While standing in the crowd with my classmates, I knew my voice mattered. I am a black female voter with the opportunity to witness leaders that generations before me would have never imagined. The American political system has seldom allowed individuals that look like myself to have roles of leadership. As a result, my voice has always felt muffled in such arenas.
Regardless of who wins the 2016 elections, seeing candidates that look like me brings my viewpoints to the forefront. So the next time, I doubt voicing my opinion as a doctor, because of fear of being critiqued by my superior and peers, I must remember that I, too, am a leader. Children that look like me see my role as a physician and picture themselves in my place. And it’s my understanding of those patients with similar experiences that gives me an advantage in the quality of care that I provide. Hence, not applying my diverse background to the health care arena will only exclude my voice and that of my patient from the conversation.
So how can I speak louder than the system, my superiors and my peers? As an American citizen, not voting for the candidate that represents my opinion allows the system to drown out my views. As a physician, not advocating for patients that I empathize with stifles the concerns of my patient. And not speaking up for myself muffles my voice amongst my superiors and peers. But I stop mumbling when I project my voice louder than my own hesitations and vote for a 2016 candidate that empathizes and advocates for me.