Breaking Through the System

The system was not built for us.

The system was not built for us. Sometimes, for those that will stop at nothing to reach their dreams, this can feel like a cop-out, but that is not the case. The North American medical system was not built for South Asian womxn, and now we have to work twice as hard to succeed because we have twice as many barriers in our way.

In schools, medicine is scrubbed clean of Eastern contributions, making South Asians feel as though we are a new, out-of-place addition to the field. Students are not taught about Ibn Sina, the Persian father of early modern medicine. Instead, we are taught about Avicenna, the man whose contributions were only valid in translation. History is Latinized so that Western tongues can pronounce it easier, because it is the Western mindset that is given priority regardless of how much its changes actually corrupt. Yes, these changes are corruption because it is not just Ibn Sina whose name was changed, and this is not just a historical phenomenon. It is a change that has far-reaching and permeating effects. Students walking into medical schools are met with raised brows and confused tones as their names are butchered, diminishing their worth before they can even begin. As they walk through a hospital, all they see are white faces—faces that do not look like theirs—passing by, and the deans they look up to, the heads of their institutions, are almost always white males, another brittle fact that adds battling discouragement to the overbearing workload the students already have. And as they progress through school, medical students are taught how diseases appear on white skin, and how they present in white males. They are told through these lessons that they are here to treat white people, and stumble upon remedies for the rest. They are told to forget their ancestors, and to leave behind their communities because their people are too difficult for a white system to start caring about. They are told to give in to a system of division.

But it is not just names and lessons that create a system of us and them, it is microaggressions amongst peers and mentors that make South Asian womxn feel as though they don’t belong. Our religions are laughed at, or must be defended through comparisons to Christianity; our voices are not heard unless they speak loud enough to overpower the sounds of white male dominance, and every mark wrong on a test feels like ten, because nothing but a perfect score can prove a womxn’s worth. It is not just the aunties that expect perfection anymore, but rather it is the system that will not listen unless every number is aligned, every score is a hundred, every hair is in place, every outfit is perfect, and every step is carried with confidence. Clearly it’s not just knowledge that gets a womxn a seat at the table. We are judged to the highest standard inside and out, but just as we think they’ve reached the standard, the bar is suddenly raised.

Through all of these simple, yet permeating acts, medical institutions teach students that they must Westernize their mindsets to excel or they will be left behind. In South Asian culture, children are taught to be the best in their fields, but they are also taught the importance of their roots. As one can imagine, entering medical school and being told to leave one of those values at the door is conflicting and discouraging. Therefore, for a South Asian to be in the medical field and keep true to their cultural beliefs is an act of defiance. It should not be, but it is. How can students expect to break into a career where all of their role models look nothing like them and can’t even begin to understand them? They can’t. Instead, they have to work to defy the expectations of their peers and professors who see them as lesser in every way and prove that their contributions are just as valuable as anyone else’s. As South Asian womxn we have to lift each other up because the system won’t do it for us. We have to push each other to be the best in our medical professions, but we also have to celebrate each other and encourage each other. Through competition we will not break through the barriers, because showing the medical field that we are good enough will not happen by tearing each other down. Building each other up will be the only way that we can reach the summit. We have to collectively love ourselves and our histories so loud that the voices telling us we can’t succeed are drowned out until they are silenced. 

Nothing will change unless we put in the work. We cannot be complicit no matter how difficult it is. We have to tell them that his name was Ibn Sina, we have to petition for art that includes faces like ours, we have to support researchers that study our rich skin tones and female bodies, and we have to push back against everyone who wishes to leave us out. These are acts that we need to undertake together, because when we support each other, we can change a system that was not built for us.


Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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