Reposted from the University of California news story profiling California's Next Doctors, which includes students from all of medical schools.
Inequality can be hard to hide in Aislyn Oulee’s chosen field, dermatology. Having grown up in São Paulo, Brazil, Oulee frequently encountered people on the streets with debilitating skin ailments; left untreated, they were both painful and a source of shame and social stigma.
“Something that’s so visible, it’s very easy for others to see and discriminate against,” Oulee said. “My mom would always tell my sister and I that we have to help those in need. We would always bring clothes and food and things like that. But even at a young age, I wished I could do more, provide medical care, be an advocate.”
When she was 14, Oulee’s family moved to Riverside, California, where she learned a new language and excelled at school, taking advantage of opportunities that her parents, who did not finish high school, never had. Despite the change in location, Oulee encountered many of the same disparities she saw in Brazil. As a first-year medical student volunteering in a free clinic, Oulee saw a patient who quit her job as a bus driver because the pain of her psoriasis was so severe.
“Even in Riverside, a lot of individuals don't get the care that they need, especially when it comes to specialty care.”
As a daughter, too, Oulee saw the need for broader, more accessible services. On countless occasions, she had to translate for her parents in health settings and learned first-hand the importance of patient education and trust. She and other students at UC Riverside’s School of Medicine share a desire to see each patient as a whole person, with a unique background and needs.
“If my patients were my parents, how would I explain it to them? Especially in dermatology, I love drawing out things so my patients can understand. To be an educator is one of our roles as doctors. Because medicine isn’t just knowledge — it’s how you use that knowledge to help someone.”
Oulee has a passion for bringing this level of care, knowledge and trust to underserved populations in the Inland Empire in dermatology. It’s a field where, until recently, the figures in dermatology textbooks only represented medical conditions on patients with light skin, leaving a huge void in training to care for darker-skinned patients. And patients from communities of color often feel apprehension and mistrust toward practitioners.
A more diverse physician pipeline — especially in dermatology — would go a long way in addressing those issues, Oulee says. That’s why she is involved in Med Mentors, helping to support other students from underprivileged backgrounds in medicine. Among other projects, she also began teaching healthy skin care practices at the Riverside Free Clinic, as well as at local schools — and it all grew from the seed of providing care on the streets of São Paulo.
“Seeing the difference you can make in patients’ lives is so fulfilling. There are a lot of opportunities to make a positive change here in the Inland Empire."
On Match Day later this month, family from as far afield as Brazil will be coming to celebrate with Oulee as she discovers where she will serve her medical residency.
“I just want to savor it. I’ve been wishing to help people with skin diseases since I was a little girl. So this is a dream come true.”