By: Muniza Siddiqui, MD
Growing up in an immigrant family, my exposure to Psychiatry and Psychology was almost nonexistent. Instead, I was exposed to financial hardships and lessons from my parents about working hard to achieve one’s goals. As a child, I felt helpless watching my parents work tirelessly and selflessly for my younger siblings and me. At that time, the only aspect of my life that I knew I could control were my academics. I decided to make academics my path to help my parents and thus worked relentlessly in school.
As I was piling up volunteer hours to add to my college applications, I decided to volunteer at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, the same hospital that helped my family on numerous occasions during times of need. It is here that I was exposed to the dire medical needs of the underserved communities. I had discovered a path to not only help my own family, but in the process be able to help many families like my own. As I continued to volunteer at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, I began to observe the immense need for mental health treatment in these communities. In 2008, I started my college career at UCLA and soon after decided to be an Applied Developmental Psychology minor. I was able to better understand people by learning concepts such as nature vs nurture and the impact of one’s environment on their mental health. With this better understanding, I continued to focus on helping families like mine by tutoring underprivileged children and creating health presentations for underserved communities. During this time, I still didn’t know what my exact goal was, but I started to realize the path that would take me there…and that was medical school.
Throughout medical school, I observed patients with mental health concerns be overlooked or receive subpar care. Given my childhood upbringing and these disheartening patterns of the mental health stigma, I gravitated towards these patients. Even though my interest in mental health stemmed early on, I never thought I would directly pursue Psychiatry, but rather I planned to incorporate mental health education into my chosen field of medicine. However, I found myself in the Psychiatry Director’s office within the first week of my Psychiatry rotation. I realized immediately that all of my personal experiences had shaped me into a person that perfectly fit into this field. I finally felt fulfilled as all of my patients’ emotional and psychological concerns were being addressed. I was intrigued by the constant intellectual stimulation with each treatment plan and psychiatric diagnosis. My path had become defined.
I want my life to have a purpose, and with Psychiatry, I have a greater purpose. I have the honor to live a life where I am a voice for the silenced individuals in our society due to their mental health and the stigma around mental health. This stigma that is so strongly cemented into our society that it will take decades for it to diminish. And that is exactly why we are needed… as Psychiatrists, Psychologists and Behavioral Health Practitioners. We have the power to push this movement forward. As a Psychiatrist, I am contributing to this great cause, and helping those who are marginalized and forgotten, similarly as my family and community were when growing up. It is a privilege to be part of this journey, and I am blessed each and every day. Psychiatry provides me with a lifelong career of healing, advocating and promoting mental health for children, individuals, couples, families, and communities. I would highly encourage exploring a career in behavioral health as the work we do in this field will live beyond us, and that is a life worth living.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” -Maya Angelou