Thoracic Surgeon Ian Bostock M.D. Reflects on Being a Latino Surgeon

October 18, 2022
Dr Bostock Our Voices

My name is Ian C. Bostock and I am an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina. I specialize in General Thoracic Surgery with a specific clinical interest in Thoracic Oncology. Every day, I engage in difficult conversations regarding tough cancer diagnoses and ways that we can help patients battle cancer.

During a recent operation, we embarked on a complex procedure to remove a patient’s tumor and attempt to render him cancer free. The procedure took a few hours and a significant amount of mental and emotional effort. When we concluded with the operation, I was thrilled because we had been able to completely remove the cancer and the patient was doing well. I proceeded to go the Family Waiting Room to speak to the patient’s family and share the good news. I greeted the patient’s wife and told her that we had had a successful day. We had been able to remove the cancer entirely and the margins were reviewed by the pathologist and felt to be negative. After I had shared all the details and findings of the case, I asked the patient’s wife if she had any questions left for me. The only thing she wanted to ask me was the following: “Where are you from?”

This was, of course, not the first time a patient or their families have asked me this question. For some reason, this time was different for me. This very simple question made me feel like I was being appraised in some way. Nonetheless, I explained that I am originally from Mexico City. This is where I grew up and began my medical training. Additionally, I explained that I came to the U.S. for my surgical training and I have been here for more than 10 years. Regardless of my efforts to refocus the conversation, I found myself explaining how my presence in this country came to be. After the conclusion of this brief encounter, I was left feeling inadequate and uncomfortable. I now realize, that I am the one responsible for feeling this way. Why is it that a very simple question can provoke a reaction like this? In his studies of sociology, Charles Cooley wrote: “I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.”

In other words, self-image or identity has a strong relationship with how we think others perceive us. Nonetheless, the driver is our own perspective. We are the ones in control of our inner narrative.

As a Latino surgeon, I understand that I am an oddity within the medical community. Latino surgeons make up less than 5% of the surgical workforce and interactions like these are a constant reminder of how much we stick out in everyday life. For anyone else, these conversations may represent simple curiosity about someone’s background. However, for someone that is underrepresented in the field, it may represent a feeling of scrutiny or isolation. That being said, I feel extremely blessed to be a part of my profession. I came to this country to learn how to fight cancer and I’m privileged to do so every day. I will continue to try to make Latino Physicians proud and hopefully, in the near future, we won’t be so rare.