When he was a kid, Luis Seija’s family didn’t have a lot. What he did have — the good and the bad — is shaping his emerging career in medicine.
On the bad side were the health problems. Growing up in Austin with a single mother, an older sister, and not much in the way of household income, he dealt with poor health from the start: respiratory infections, multiple surgeries prior to age 2, and even whooping cough in fourth grade.
On the good side, along with the support of his mom, he had the same pediatrician for his entire childhood — someone who became more than just a doctor to him and his family.
Now, Mr. Seija is finishing his third year at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and is a member of the Texas Medical Association’s Medical Student Section (MSS) Executive Council. He has his eye on a combined internal medicine and pediatrics specialty and envisions helping people who are living the life he once lived.
“You look to your past to know where you’re going,” he said. “There will always be a place in my heart for the underserved and uninsured. I always come back to them. I definitely see myself in a community setting doing that type of work.”
Mr. Seija didn’t come out of childhood with medicine as a slam-dunk career choice. In fact, he originally went to The University of Texas at Austin on a full-ride music scholarship. But after he switched majors to biochemistry and started on the path to medicine, a medical school rotation in pediatrics brought him full circle to his past.
Mr. Seija jokes that as a child, besides his mother, “the most consistent thing in my life was rice and beans.” There was no regular father figure. The respiratory infections had him constantly floating in and out of the office of his pediatrician, Joanne Wise Edoka, MD, who he says tended not only to his needs, but also to his family’s, especially his mom’s.
“She understood what it meant to be there for my mom because no one else could be,” Mr. Seija said. “As children, we leaned on my mom, and she couldn’t really lean on us the way that she needed to be leaned on. But my pediatrician helped fill that role and assured us that everything was going to be OK.”
Years later, during that pediatric outpatient rotation in Waco, he saw a primarily poor and uninsured patient population — patients he described as “the spitting image of what my family was.” That is, single-parent, disadvantaged families who didn’t have much besides each other.
“I think one day during clinic it just hit me. We had this 5-year-old little boy named Luis, just like me, coming in for upper and lower respiratory stuff,” Mr. Seija said. “And I was just like, ‘Oh, man, this is it.’ And of course, I just enjoy looking for butterflies in their ears, messing around with them, and just being a kid again.”
Although Mr. Seija is now an active participant in the MSS Executive Council, his involvement in organized medicine originated a little less naturally.
“At my school, they said, ‘If you join our TMA-American Medical Association (AMA) chapter as a delegate … you can get a free trip to Chicago for the AMA Annual Meeting.’ I was all about that; I didn’t really quite understand the scope of the position,” he said. “So I ran for it. I was going based off the incentives, not necessarily what they did, unfortunately. But it was at my first meeting that I realized, ‘This is actually pretty cool.’”
At the following AMA Interim Meeting in 2016, Mr. Seija made his voice heard by advocating for a change in the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) policy on blood donations from men who have sex with men. In late 2015, the FDA had lifted its lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, replacing it with a policy that barred blood donations from men who had had sex with men in the previous year.
Mr. Seija, believing FDA’s new policy was still discriminatory, wrote an AMA resolution advocating for an individual risk assessment for each potential donor, rather than a blanket ban. The AMA then wrote to FDA during a subsequent public comment period, advocating for donation deferral periods based on science and “fairly and consistently applied to donors according to their individual risk.” It cited Mr. Seija’s resolution as one of its references.
“It’s something that I always incorporate at resolution workshops — [showing] medical students can do something,” he said. “Resolutions aren’t just words on a page. You can have a tangible impact. So that’s something I always try to emphasize.”
He says every student should consider involvement in organized medicine, adding policy adoptions happening today impact medical students just as much, if not more, than physicians already practicing.
“The one thing that’s very frustrating about policy in general, is that it takes time, it takes patience. There’s a lot of logistics that go behind all of it to implement the change that you want to see, so you have to be patient,” he said. “Even though we might pass a policy now, we might not see the effects of that adoption until we’re actually in practice. Being informed is one of the best things that you can do for yourself as a medical student. Medicine shouldn’t be confined to just medicine. Medicine and the practice of medicine span so many different things.”
Tex Med. 2018;114(5):14-15
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