Erika Flores Uribe: Interview With The Right Fit HIPster Award Winner

The 2016 Right Fit HIPster Awards is a collaboration between Medelita and FemInEM with the purpose of celebrating and rewarding women EM residents who have identified a problem facing physicians, patients, or their community, and who have done something about it. With over 45 submissions from highly qualified applicants, our judges selected the top five winners who we felt most strongly have embodied this goal.

This week, we sat down and spoke with winner Erica Flores Uribe MD MPH, who has been recognized for developing an evidence-based language services program to decrease health disparities and improve medical outcomes.

Name: Erika Flores Uribe

Age: 30

Residency program: LAC+ USC Emergency Medicine

Medical school: UCSF

Passion project: Cultural and linguistic barriers to healthcare

Favorite movie or TV show: James Cameron’s Avatar was a great movie.

Favorite or current bookRight now I am reading Born to Run, and The Year of Yes is one of my favorite books.

Favorite hobbiesI really enjoy being active, and when I had more free time I used to do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and run marathons. I still enjoy being outside and active—hiking, kayaking, and spending time with friends and family are some of my favorite things to do outside of work.

Now for the real questions...

What would you have been if you weren’t going to be a doctor?

I probably would have been a firefighter paramedic. I actually went through the Fire Academy—  only two women graduated in my class. My other career option was to become a teacher, since I love helping people to learn. As an Emergency Medicine physician, I get the best of both worlds!

Best advice for people considering a career in medicine:

What counts can’t always be counted; what can be counted doesn’t always count.

My personal interpretation of this has been to continuously evaluate my priorities and where I am investing my energies. As a doctor, it’s easy to become overstretched with the never-ending to-do lists, but you must learn to protect relationship/family time on your path to becoming a physician so that you can be the best provider you can be.

Best words of advice you’ve received:

The best advice I’ve received in regards to my journey in medicine, is to follow what I’m passionate about and do the work that I will find most meaningful. The ability to do the work I find most meaningful leaves me feeling more fulfilled and energized about my job every day.

Most inspiring role model in your medical career:

There are two. My mom has been a pillar in my life, one of the most determined and dedicated people I’ve ever met. She has a unique leadership style and unparalleled work ethic, as well as an extremely caring and compassionate nature. Her dedication has been an inspiration for me, because it’s helped me accept the fact that at times we won’t succeed, but we have to keep moving forward.

As far as role models specific to my medical career, I have been inspired by the work of Dr. Elizabeth Wilson, who is a program director at my medical school. She built a program dedicated to building relationships and elevating care for underserved populations in urban areas. Her work embodies the type of leadership that I aspire to in my role as a doctor.

What is the most important skill you’ve developed on your path to becoming a doctor?

I believe medicine is a discipline of service and compassion is crucial to the work we do.  As a physician, I have learned a lot about the compassionate side of medicine, and this is something I continue to learn every day - compassion not only for my patients, but also for my colleagues and myself.

What do you love most about what you do?

Patients come into the ER during the most vulnerable moments in their lives. Being able to dignify their struggles and provide much needed care during moments where families feel powerless, makes my work the most fulfilling.

What is the most inspiring patient or clinical experience that you have had?

An elderly Monolingual Spanish Speaking couple came into the ER. The husband was very concerned about his wife’s abdominal swelling. “ I have made vegetable shakes for her every day and her belly only gets bigger. We have gone to three different hospitals and they all tell us she is constipated. She is not constipated. She is getting worse.”

As soon as I saw the woman, I realized the prognosis would be poor. I immediately noticed how pale she was, her swollen legs and distended belly.  My suspicion, unfortunately, was correct. Her CT Scan showed pancreatic cancer.

I remember how emotional it was in that room, I had delivered some of the  most devastating news she would receive in her life. I was expecting her to be angry, an understandable reaction for someone in her position.

She was not angry. She looked at me with appreciation in her eyes, and expressed her gratitude for my having taken the time to listen, find answers, and explain those answers.  She had felt slighted other places. She told me that if she were going to receive news like this, that it was a gift to have received it from me.

Many patient experiences are not like this one but patient experiences like these keep me motivated and inspired.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve seen for women in healthcare?

There are quite a few. Work-life balance is always a challenge for everyone but women especially. Medicine, particularly Emergency Medicine, is still a male dominated profession, and there are very few women in leadership positions. There are several cultural an societal forces that decrease available opportunities for women which makes it difficult for women to attain those leadership roles.

As women in medicine are coming into a space that is traditionally held by men, the ‘Imposter syndrome’ can be debilitating for some.  There has to be a paradigm shift at all levels of medicine to create a more equitable work environment.

This paradigm shift will allow for more female mentors in leadership roles to boost the growth and development of younger women in medicine.

What is the biggest challenge for healthcare system today?

Again, there are quite a few. I am most passionate about helping create a more equitable healthcare system. The need for appropriate cultural and linguistic services is palpable in healthcare with burgeoning diversity of our population.  No patient should have to suffer from poor health outcomes due to linguistic barriers.  Fortunately, our healthcare systems are identifying this as a need and are moving forward to strengthen services for our communities.

What do you plan on doing with your $500 award?

I will probably spend it on a new car part so that I can pass my smog test!

How do you try to convey a professional appearance?

In our profession we’re always wearing scrubs, and that can make it difficult for patients to figure out who is who. Having a lab coat and even personal embroidery helps lend that element of professionalism for the community that we take care of.