While growing up in Plant City, Florida, Aerial Petty witnessed firsthand language barriers and cultural differences among residents in the Tampa Bay area that might impede them in receiving proper medical care.
“For some people who speak only Spanish, and who may be facing a serious health condition, they can’t communicate with people to tell them what’s wrong,” said Petty, who began learning the Spanish language in kindergarten. “From their perspective, they might be terrified to talk to people. It must be really, really scary to communicate…”
Her observations of her surroundings caused her to lay aside dreams of becoming a performer or a lawyer, and aspire instead to become a medical doctor.
“I wanted to make sure they received the best care possible, when they don’t speak the primary language,” she said. “I realized I love medicine for what it does for people and the ability it has to connect us to each other, and care for each other in the most literal sense possible.”
Gaining more insight as she attended the University of Florida, she decided to drop her biology major in favor of Spanish and minored in anthropology while on the pre-med track.
“Through that, I really enjoyed learning how culturally diverse people have such a different way of experiencing the world. There’s so much we can learn from each other,” she said.
After graduating, Petty went on to earn her Masters of Medical Science at the University of South Florida.
“Anthropology is the study of man. I wanted the opportunity to take learning what makes people different and applying that to medicine and that’s how I came to ACOM,” Petty said.
At the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, students have the opportunity to become a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, DO, as opposed to the commonly acquired Doctor of Medicine, MD.
Petty said the practices of osteopathic medicine were compatible with her career goals.
One of the common teachings of osteopathic medicine is learning to manipulate the human body with one’s hands.
“Before we think about prescribing opioids, we can use our hands to do that for a first line. We have something else to do to hopefully relieve their pain instead of using medicine as a first resort,” Petty said.
Additionally, Petty, a third year student, said that osteopathic medicine treats the person and not just the problem.
“ACOM seemed like the best opportunity to connect humanism with medicine. Osteopathic medicine is based on the principle that the body has the inherent ability to heal itself and I really liked that,” Petty said. “I liked the idea that it was our job to help the body to do what it’s supposed to do.”
During her education at ACOM, she worked with a community health center in Boston, learning and helping to conduct research about the opioid epidemic which strengthened her resolve to pursue osteopathic medicine. During her time, she and others probed why non-fatal opioid overdose patients were reluctant to call 911.
Her personal diverse background, fluency in Spanish, and ambitions made her the perfect candidate to become a recipient of a Diverse Scholars Initiative scholarship, which she learned about while working at the Boston health center.
The initiative is the result of collaboration between the United Health Foundation and National Medical Fellowships, who created the scholarship “to help ensure a 21st century culturally competent health care workforce that is reflective of our country’s population,” according to a press release.
The fund has provided more than $20 million to support nearly 2,600 scholarships for students pursuing careers in primary care since 2007.
Currently, Petty is doing rotations at Southeast Health as part of her course requirements and plans to become a primary care doctor after she graduates.
“Primary care gives you an opportunity to form relationships with patients. I found more fulfillment in having those interactions and conversations with people. The better you know a person the better you can help them,” she said.