Health care has been a hot-topic of discussion in America lately, yet health care providers are often left out of those discussions while they continue to carry out everyday duties of caring and empathetic treatment. Acadiana is a medical hub for regional and specialty care with hundreds of doctors working to provide quality care to our region. Over 20,000 employees, many of whom are from all over the country and world, populate Acadiana’s medical industry. In addition, numerous physicians from Acadiana are educated in Louisiana and return home to care for loved ones and neighbors.
To celebrate Doctor’s Day this year, we have asked those physicians from abroad who have planted roots in Acadiana to describe their lives here– why they chose this region, what they love about it and how some of our customs may differ.
History Of Doctor’s Day
Before delving into the interviews, here is a brief history of Doctor’s Day in America. Since 1933, Americans have celebrated the dedication of doctors in their communities with a national Doctor’s Day. March 30 was officially declared national Doctor’s Day by the U.S. House and Senate in 1990 and passed into law that same year by President George W. Bush.
Originally, March 30 was an important date to one doctor more so than others– namely, Dr. Crawford W. Long of Jefferson, Georgia. On that day in 1842 Dr. Long became the first surgeon to use ether anesthetic. Dr. Long’s use of ether to ease his patient’s pain during a tumor removal surgery is one of countless examples of compassion shown by physicians every day– and a good day to commemorate the accomplishments and commitment of those same doctors to their patients.
Eighty-one years ago, Mrs. Eudora Brown Almond chose March 30 as a day to honor her husband, Dr. Chares B. Almond, and his colleagues with flowers, thoughtful cards and a savory treat. Mrs. Brown’s tradition continues today as doctors’ offices are showered in gifts– the red carnation in particular is a symbol of Doctor’s Day– and patients and staff take the time to thank those who have cared for them. Some medical centers even have special celebrations for their current physicians and remembrances for those who have passed.
Dr. Stephan Stamato, Radiology
Iberia Medical Center, New Iberia
Dr. Stamato hails from Santos, Brazil, so naturally his first language is Portuguese. After medical school in Santos, he moved to San Diego, California for both his residency and fellowship in Radiology. Ready to practice and not wanting to return to Brazil for two years once his student visa expired, Dr. Stamato looked for a smaller community deemed “medically underserved,” which would allow him to remain in the U.S. Until very recently, Iberia Parish was distinguished as medically underserved, so Dr. Stamato moved to New Iberia about six and a half years ago.
From his perspective, Brazil and Acadiana are not too far afield: “From Brazil, it’s (Acadiana) really not that different. There are welcoming, warm people and it’s really hot just like Brazil! Louisiana is a huge difference from California,” he explains, “the human part of the equation is better here.”
In terms of local culture and traditions, Dr. Stamato likes our abundance of seafood– shrimp, soft-shell crab, crawfish pie, jambalaya– but boudin is not his favorite. He and his family also enjoy attending local festivals like Festival International in Lafayette and the Chili and Gumbo Cook-offs in New Iberia.
Dr. Stamato has lived away from home for a long time and he believes that you must make the best of every situation. “We feel at home here, and we try to adapt to the places we live. We don’t try to make them adapt to us. We try to keep an open mind,” he says. “If you’re going to live in another country,” Dr. Stamato emphasizes as an example, “you need to learn the language.” Dr. Stamato and his wife, who is Brazilian as well, strive to keep their Portuguese language tradition alive while raising their three daughters. “The important thing for our daughters is to speak Portuguese. Their grandparents, cousins, etc. speak Portuguese, and we try to go home every two years, so they need to learn.”
As far as cultural traditions go, Louisiana and Brazil could be cousins: “The traditions here are pretty much the same, but in Brazil families come together for big holidays like New Year’s and Christmas. The families are not separate. Kids, parents, neighbors, we like to get together. Everything we do, we try to do with the kids. That’s a little different, I think. We take the girls to church every week to develop a strong religious foundation. Otherwise, it is pretty much the same. We have Carnival too.”
Overall, Dr. Stamato likes the small town feel of New Iberia and the fact that his girls can play in the street safely: “I like it here. I think I have a good job and work with nice people. I don’t think there’s a better place to go. New Iberia is a good place to raise kids. The small-town setting is a nice worry-free environment. I don’t like to stress; it ages you!”
Dr. Irfan Alam
Gastroenterology Center of LA
Dr. Alam moved to Louisiana in the late 90s, but he is originally from Lahore, Pakistan. Today, he lives in Lafayette, but he has also experienced life in New Iberia– as a physician– and New Orleans– as a gastroenterology fellow at Tulane University. Dr. Alam attended medical school in his hometown of Lahore then moved to the U.S. to attend a residency program at the University of Illinois in Chicago. “The weather in Pakistan is quite different from Chicago; Chicago is very very cold!” he says of his time there. In contrast with Chicago, “The weather in Louisiana is kind of like what I grew up with in Pakistan. The people in general are very nice and friendly here,” Dr. Alam expounds. “When I was in New Iberia, we used to go to the Gumbo Cook-off. That was very nice, especially the seafood gumbos. Overall, I think it was nice little town there. I also lived in North Louisiana as a faculty member of LSU Medical School in Shreveport, so that was a good experience.”
Dr. Alam’s family and the friends he made while practicing in Southern Louisiana drew him back to bayou country: “The reason I made the transition back to Lafayette was because I’d known a lot of people here, and my twin brother– a practicing cardiologist– lives here as well. It’s good to have family around. My twin brother and I are different specialties, so we don’t see each other in the hospital too much. We do meet a couple of times a week and talk on the phone often. We have a good mixture here of meeting local people, friends and family and then other people from Pakistan.”
In order to keep in touch with Pakistani traditions, Dr. Alam stays in contact with his family and friends both locally and internationally. “My wife cooks great Pakistani cuisine,” explains Dr. Alam. “A lot of things we need to cook, in terms of spices, you can get at local stores. Overall, we like the food here a lot, though. We go out and eat locally too; obviously the seafood is great here! The other things like local news in Pakistan, we stay in touch with that and up to date. On Dish you can get anything and stay in touch with your programs.”
Dr. Alam says, “Our families are there, and we go once a year usually. My wife’s family and mine visit us here as well. I have three boys, and I wanted them to be bilingual. They learned languages well.” He continues, “I wanted them to learn and do well with our language,” he explains, “so when we go back to Pakistan they can speak with the children there. It helps them when they visit other countries too.” Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, but Dr. Alam’s first language is a derivative of the Punjabi dialect.
In Acadiana, family and friendship are of the utmost importance. For international physicians, incorporating local traditions and friendships into the framework of their own cultural traditions and family lives allows them to create a sense of home and place in our region– a relationship we are happy to grow and cultivate as we honor physicians on Doctor’s Day.