ORLANDO, Fla. – Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of physicians and nurses in the United States has been a concern.
During Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) month a physician in Orlando talked about his commitment to recruiting future healthcare heroes to the area.
“I feel like I’ve seen it grow and been a part of that growth,” Dr. Josef Thundiyil, Emergency Physician and Residency Program Director for emergency medicine.
Thundiyil moved to Orlando 24 years ago and has practiced emergency medicine with Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center.
During that time, he said, diversity in the area has exploded.
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“My mom specifically was a physician trained in India, but came over at a time when there was a need for physicians, there was a physician shortage,” Thundiyil said.
Thundiyil was born in Chicago, but his parents came to the United States to help patients during a physician shortage.
“We’re very proud that that was a way that we as a family got a foothold in the United States,” Thundiyil said.
He said watching his mom’s work with patients in underserved, rural communities instilled a sense of dedication and sacrifice during his childhood.
“I think I was the only Asian American in my elementary school, middle school, and maybe there was one other in my high school, but it also provided an opportunity for myself and for my family to teach others about Asian American heritage,” Thundiyil said.
Thundiyil’s work with patients has spanned many states and countries.
“One of the things I’ve really found to be true is how people understand their health, how they understand their diagnosis, their treatment, even pain and fear is all really shaped by their cultural upbringing, and I think being an Asian American helped me understand that a little bit more,” Thundiyil said.
As a Residency Program director with Orlando Health, he said he has tried to pass what he has learned forward when he is recruiting residents and young physicians.
“I’ve learned from other providers who maybe have come from other religious backgrounds or even different parts of the country about nuances in their cultures that have helped me become a better physician,” Thundiyil said.
During this AANHPI month, Thundiyil said he welcomes conversations about his heritage with patients.
“I think it provides an opportunity for us both to learn about each other and for me — at the very least it gives me an opportunity to talk about food, if not the healthcare side of things,” Thundiyil said.