Interview With Silvia Diego, MD, LPOC Treasurer
and Chair of the LPOC Membership Committee
Physician of the Year, Stanislaus Medical Society
Personal Bio HERE.
Where were you born?
My parents emigrated from Tijuana Mexico to the Central Valley. I was actually born in Tijuana, Mexico. When my family immigrated to California we moved to San Joaquin Valley. Nobody in my family had ever gone to high school, let alone higher education. They did not believe that I was serious about becoming a physician.
What was life like growing up in San Joaquin?
My parents were migrant farm workers. There were periods of time when they were not home. My siblings and I would stay with my older sister during that time. I remember working in the fields once. Then when I was 14, I got the opportunity to work in a summer program in a Health Center in San Joaquin. I loved reading and all aspects of school even though it was tough because I could not ask my parents or family for support with my lessons or schoolwork. I had to be independent and work things out by myself – be self-sufficient. When it was tomato season, for example my parents worked 7 days a week for 5-6 weeks straight – then they were off to the next crop rotation.
Besides working in a clinic what made you decide to become a physician?
From the time I was little, I wanted to be a doctor. I always liked taking care of animals that were sickly. When my siblings or my parent were ill, I wanted to help them. In the third grade, my mother bought me a microscope. I loved it. I would be poking my sibling’s fingers, my friends and other relatives to test blood (this was “pre-HIV”). I took temperatures. I loved science and the idea of helping people. I watched TV shows that changed people’s lives through medicine. When I was very young I was fascinated by those commercials that asked for money to help people in third world countries get health care. I felt at that young age that I could help people in Africa.
Was any body else in your immediate family so inclined?
No. My older sister got married at 15, the next sister married at 17, my sister seven years apart from me was interested in nursing. I have not convinced any of my siblings to become physicians.
Who was the one person who most supported your effort to become a physician?
Growing up I was pretty independent. My oldest sister also kept encouraging and pushing me forward. In my freshman year in college, I got married. It was my husband who declared, “of course you’re going to be a doctor.” He supported me. A hard thing for my parents to understand was that I had to leave home and go away to Stanford Medical School to follow my dream to become a physician. He was always talking to my parents and getting them to understand that I would succeed.
You are so involved with LPOC. You are the LPOC Board Treasurer, and the Chair of the Membership Committee and we are grateful for your support. Why do you think it is important for health professionals to become members of the Latino Physicians of California?
California is such a richly diverse state with so many different cultures, with Latinos being the largest. It is so important that we represent our community. Key to our success in advocacy is that we personally represent our community. If not, those leaders will not understand. They will form or maintain impressions of the Latino community that are not correct – that Latinos do not want to pursue higher education.
The only way to help our people in Sacramento and Washington DC is to be a part of the leadership for change as partners – sitting at the table with decision makers. Part of LPOC’s leadership role is to encourage others to get involved. To bring about change it is critical that we get involved and be visible to represent the health needs of our community. The influential government and civic bodies that make decisions that impact our every day lives need to know from, us, that we are here to support our communities. We need to challenge those who say it is okay to treat our communities if you do not know the language or the culture of our people and will not make the accommodation for their needs. The only way to bring about change is to present Latinos in a leadership role and to draw attention to the issues that need to be addressed. Our leadership role encourages others to get involved in our efforts to support Latino health.
What advice would you give physician colleagues about the demanding work of the health profession?
It is a tough question because the answer lies within each individual – being a physician is a part of your life. A health profession is a “passion.” You cannot separate your love of medicine – it is a part of you. You cannot say I’m going to turn it off now… I’m not going to be a doctor now. You need the support of your family to be a wife/husband/partner, parent, and extended family member. Your family has to understand and support your efforts.
If you are called away from a family event it does not mean that the event is less important – it is a part of your work. If you share your love of the profession with your family they understand. I have been married for 34 years. I have four children and I do not think any of them regret that I am a doctor. You lead by example. Whether it is in your professional or personal life. They are proud of me. I am proud to say that my oldest son, Jose, is a second-year surgery resident at a program in Bakersfield. My daughter, Stephanie, is a dental student at UCLA. My third is a Civil and Environmental Engineer. My 12 year old is my baby.
Dr. Diego has earned numerous awards for her service to the community. She was appointed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the Medical Board of California in 2010 and was reappointed by Governor Jerry Brown.