Once Roshni Grace Ray graduates from UT Health San Antonio’s Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine on May 21, she will have one month to get settled 2,100 miles away to begin her obstetrics and gynecology residency at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle.
For Ray, Match Day brought relief, joy and a twinge of sadness realizing she and her cohort of medical student peers would soon be heading in different directions to pursue the next stages of their professional journeys — journeys that began years before.
As a young girl, Ray recalls always wanting to understand why and how. “Why do people get sick? How does the human body work? I needed to know,” explains Ray. Those curiosities would align with her future interest in studying medicine, but as a kid, she also considered becoming an archeologist.
While those two career paths might seem divergent, wanting to understand how human civilizations from the past interacted with their environments was perhaps a natural extension of Ray’s desire to grasp the causes and effects that unfold to shape the health of an individual, a family and a community.
When a headache is more than a throbbing pain
It is a story Ray saw unfold repeatedly among patients at the San Antonio Refugee Health Clinic, a joint effort among the university’s dental, medical, nursing and other health profession students and faculty to provide acute care to immigrant refugees living in San Antonio. “Someone would describe symptoms of an intense headache, and physiologically that was a correct diagnosis,” says Ray. “But you also have to consider the contributing factors.”
She knows that many of the patients who visit the clinic carry an immense burden of grief and loss. “These people left their homes and home countries and might never return,” says Ray. “The headache you are treating was likely brought on or worsened by intense stress.”
Ray considers her work at the clinic as a student leader among the most meaningful experiences of her medical school career. That opportunity was a big draw for her to attend UT Health San Antonio. “My dad’s father was a refugee, fleeing from present-day Bangladesh to India. Not having access to health care impacted his life personally, and that has become part of my own understanding about the hardships of refugee populations and the impacts on a family across generations when there is a lack of needed care,” says Ray.
Better health through story sharing
Another reason UT Health San Antonio rated high on Ray’s list when applying to medical schools was the opportunity to explore her creative side and her interest in narrative medicine, the practice of engaging patients in conversations and encouraging them to share the personal stories that can provide context for the care they may need. She was especially excited to learn of Connective Tissue, the university’s student-led literature and arts journal. Not only has Ray contributed to the journal, sharing about her experience working in the refugee health clinic (see “The Saint in the Courtyard”), but she has served as co-editor-in-chief for 2021–2022.
Ray likewise found an outlet through the university’s Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics, which sponsors publication of the journal. The center’s focus on preparing health care workers to be healers, acting with compassion and justice, resonates deeply with Ray. The value of sitting with and listening to patients was underscored for Ray on her rotations during COVID, which sharpened her focus on how to offer care with hope and kindness. “For so many patients, we had to become their primary comforter when family members weren’t allowed to be present,” says Ray. “That expands how you see your role.”
Lessons for the road
Ray plans to continue pursuing her creative interests during her residency. She chose UW in part because of its familiar supportive environment in narrative medicine. To continue with her commitment to global health, Ray looks forward to working with the local refugee population in Seattle. UW Medicine’s Harborview Medical Center, where displaced and refugee populations are among the patients prioritized for care, can provide that opportunity.
As Ray contemplates all that lies ahead, she is incredibly thankful for her education and for what she has learned. Chief among those lessons: “How you engage with patients is essential,” says Ray.
Among the faculty who have most influenced Ray and to whom she is grateful:
—Dr. Alan Sakaguchi, PhD, associate professor of cell systems and anatomy. “I first met Dr. Sakaguchi on my interview day here, and he did a lot to convince me to come here, telling me that if I wanted to write and do medicine, this was the perfect school for me.”
—Dr. Kristy Kosub, MD, general medicine. “Her involvement with the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics and the university’s Connective Tissue journal is truly inspiring. I worked with her all four years, and she encouraged me every step of the way.”
—Dr. Erin Mankus, MD, assistant professor, obstetrics and gynecology. “I worked with Dr. Mankus on projects in women’s health and providing preventative care and access and this became an area I felt drawn to and where I could help make a difference.”
Ray’s advice to current students: “Stick with it. Your first year can be especially difficult, but it gets easier, because you get more capable each day you practice what you are learning.”
Her extracurricular reading recommendation: Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman. “The main thesis is that people are innately good and in general always try to help each other,” says Ray. “I am a firm believer that whatever you have, you should use it to help others, and I want to offer hope and kindness.”