Representation Matters

by Stephanie Rolon-Rodriguez, MD

“Dr. Rolon-Rodriguez.” The sound of it still startles me. Maybe it’s be the excitement of finally finishing medical school, or the butterflies that arise in my stomach with the responsibility that comes along with the title. You see, I am the first person to pursue a career in medicine in my family. My exposure to physicians that looked like me was limited and with that, same goes for mentorship from individuals in the field during my earlier school years. Going to school for at least eight years with an additional three years of training was baffling to my family – but let’s be honest, most people think we are crazy – and so with my bootstraps pulled up and my mom at the other side of the phone with google pulled up we started the journey that would bring me here.

I was born Stephanie Rolon Rodriguez in a beautiful “Isla del Encanto,” Puerto Rico, where it was a custom for everyone to display their name in full – meaning, two last names. I jokingly add that my mom always said she didn’t give me a middle name because my name was long enough, but I digress. At a young age, I didn’t understand the importance my name had to my identity and my sense of self; that it unapologetically showcased my roots and my two loving, hilarious, and sometimes normally dysfunctional families who in the future would continuously cheer me on from wherever they were.

We made the move to Florida when I was nine, and almost instantly my name was sliced in half – I was now referred to as “Stephanie Rolon.” I was concerned enough with the fact that I did not understand a word my teacher was saying during my first day of school, that I didn’t even notice when it happened. At some point, it just stuck.

The day I submitted my application to medical school, I must have sat in front of my computer screen for hours thinking about the implications of typing my full name into the application. I didn’t realize that all of these years I was conditioned to believe that it was too long, that it would be difficult for others to say it out loud, or that you just simply didn’t use your second last name in the states. The interesting thing is that nobody said these words out loud, they were simply implied by inadvertently omitting the use of my second last name or choosing to use one over the other. 

Four years went by and now I would move to start residency in Salt Lake City, UT. As a medical student there are no true formal introductions, “Stephanie,” sufficed. As a newly minted doctor, my last name would have a glorious comeback. After a couple of months, I realized I was providing excuses to people about my last name before they even had the chance to say it or at least ask what I go by.

“I know, it’s long.”

“If you have to pick one, just use Rolon.”

“Oh that’s not it, but it’s okay!”

I think that as you grow older you realize the importance of representation and how seeing individuals that look like you in different roles/spaces truly influence your life and the choices you make. Latinx physicians only make up 5.8% of the physicians in the United States, although we make up an estimated 18.3% of the population. These disproportionate numbers are not only seen in my community, but in other racial and ethnic minority groups in the profession. Using my full name is no longer just for my own sense of self and identity but, most importantly, for the purpose of representation in spaces and roles that have historically lacked cultural and ethnic diversity.

Thankfully, I have been blessed to be in a space where my differences are valued, respected, and I am encouraged to speak up. We still have a way to go, but nevertheless, I am excited for the future. So now, without skipping a beat, I knock on the door to Room 2, walk in and introduce myself:

Good morning, I am Dr. Rolon-Rodriguez.”

Stephanie Rolon Rodriguez, MD, is from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and chose the University of Utah Family Medicine Residency because of the great full-spectrum training opportunities and supportive residents, faculty, and staff. Her medical areas of interest include Latino health, health equity and advocacy, maternal and child health, and global health. When not working, Dr. Rolon-Rodriguez enjoys traveling, playing volleyball, and checking out new restaurants.

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