Philadelphia Medicine Summer 2020 - 14
p h i l a m e d s o c .org
A Conversation with our
new President -
Dr. Natalia Ortiz-Torrent
Dr. Ortiz wanted to become a physician from the time she was very welcoming. People are more protective of their personal space
a young girl growing up in Puerto Rico. What is a formidable and suspicious of other people's intentions. My greetings were not
goal for anyone gets complicated when you're facing the ethnic answered. If people don't know you, trust you, they won't talk to you.
and sexual biases that still exist.
There was discrimination. I look white but I have an accent. I'm
Dr. Ortiz's academic journey started with a degree in chemistry not white, I'm not black. I felt I didn't belong to any group. I would
and work as a chemist, that led to earning her MD at Puerto open my mouth and people would say, "You're not from here."
Rico's Ponce School of Medicine. She then took a residency in "You have to learn better English." "Go back to your country." Not
psychiatry at Temple University Hospital. In a wide-ranging knowing that I am a U.S. citizen, since I was born in Puerto Rico.
conversation, Dr. Ortiz described to us the language and It was very painful.
cultural hurdles she had to surmount to become a doctor in
My colleagues were friendly and supportive, but they had their
Philadelphia, and the help from mentors that were crucial to own social groups. I wanted to make friends, but I was afraid to
speak up. I wanted to have a conversation, but I was too anxious
So, you wanted to be a physician from childhood.
Yes, my father encouraged me at an early age. He told me "You're
going to be a doctor." He had a very modern view of women even
though he was born in 1920. Where we lived (in Puerto Rico) women
having a career, let alone being a doctor, was not something they
were supposed to strive for. Back then there was only one physician
in the family, my uncle and godfather. Between my father and uncle,
I learned the value of taking care of people, of helping others.
Mentors played a crucial role.
My mom, dad, uncle - they were all mentors. I had a college
professor who encouraged me to study chemistry. It was good
preparation for medical school. But some encouraged me to stick
with chemistry and not pursue medicine, because of how difficult
it was to get into medical school in Puerto Rico.
So, I became a board-certified chemist which I loved. It also gave
me financial security, if I didn't get into medical school. But I did
get in and then received a residency at Temple.
I did volunteer work in high school, with women and kids who
were victims of abuse. I felt a calling to help them. There was only
one psychiatry residency program in Puerto Rico, so I applied to
several programs in the U.S. as well, and was accepted to Temple
University Hospital. I also applied to major cities since I wanted to
have that experience, the big city urban life.
How challenging was it to move to Philadelphia?
It was very difficult, culturally. Typically, people in Puerto Rico
are warm. We say hello to everyone, even people we don't know. It's
14 Philadelphia Medicine : Summer 2020
to initiate them. It was a challenge. It forced me to become more
curious about the culture and language, including the use of idioms.
What else was difficult about the residency
The 36-hour shifts. I had to be on call every four days. It was tough
on the mind and body. It's now 24 hours which still seems too long
to me. It doesn't seem like the right way to train people.
It was also very hard to go from day shift to night shift in a short
period of time. Residents need more time than we received to make
those adjustments. But I had good experiences in residency. The nurses
and supervisors were a big help in getting me through the process.
Are you glad you went into psychiatry?
Yes. I had to learn about the culture in Philadelphia, to better
care for my patients. We have integrated what we have learned
about the social determinants of health. You can help a person with
medications and psychotherapy, but if they don't have food you're
not really meeting their needs.
My patients have a multitude of problems that are interconnected.
We examine how medical conditions affect the mind and how the
mind affects the body. Someone with lupus, for example, can have
a flareup affecting the brain that can cause a psychosis.
I suppose you could say the
pandemic is a social determinant.
It's had a terrible impact on the poor and psychiatric patients. We
have had a lot of consultations to try to help patients. Underrepresented groups were disproportionally affected. It's been getting better.
I understand the protests against racism, but violence destroyed
Philadelphia Medicine Summer 2020
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