Tahuanty Peña, MD, had no point of reference for practicing medicine—but pursued it anyways because of his passion for helping others.
“I’ve always been driven to help people; I think that’s what caught my interest initially,” Peña says. “I’ve always liked challenges, and the path to becoming a physician certainly provided that.”
Now, Peña—a UI clinical associate professor of internal medicine-pulmonary, critical care, and occupational medicine—dedicates his time to lung transplants, the Medical Intensive Care Unit, Cystic Fibrosis patients, clinical research, and educating the next generation of doctors.
Making change and moving forward
One of the most rewarding aspects of his role at UI Health Care is the long-term relationships he establishes with his lung-transplant and Cystic Fibrosis patients and their families, Peña says.
“You get to know their parents, their kids, their grandkids, and you follow them for years,” he says. “So, you build that relationship that becomes like family, and I think that’s the most engaging part of the job.”
Peña, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, adds that he’s especially grateful to be able to help Hispanic and Latinx patients battling COVID-19.
“To be able to take care of people that are only Spanish-speaking, so at least they feel they have that connection with some of the providers here that speak the same language and understand their culture, has given us the ability to provide them some relief,” he says.
Looking back now, Peña says he would remind his younger self to “enjoy the ride” as he pursues medicine. Moving from the Dominican Republic to Michigan and then to Pennsylvania before settling in Iowa, Peña says he learned the importance of embracing change when it benefits or betters his goals, and even when it (seemingly) doesn’t.
“In medicine, and especially when you’re training because that education takes such a long time, it can be easy to become distracted because you’re thinking only of the end goal and lose focus of what’s really enjoyable,” he says. “It’s the ride—going through different phases of life.”
Peña says he is proud of the journey that has led him to his current circumstances.
“I grew up with a single mother in a third-world country,” he says. “And now, being where I am today—having had the opportunities to train well, then position myself where I am now and to help a lot of people—that’s my biggest accomplishment.”
Establishing the Latinx Faculty Council
Recently, Peña assumed the mantle of president for the UI Carver College of Medicine Latinx Faculty Council, a new organization that aims to bring together the school’s many faculty members of Hispanic or Latinx heritage.
Though the council is still in its preliminary stages, Peña said its members have already begun developing their goals—including increased mentorship for Latinx faculty members and students in the college.
“We realize there’s a lot of us in different departments in the college and everybody’s very excited because of the connection that we all share,” Peña says. “In just the first few meetings that we’ve had, there’s just been a general sense of excitement, and a lot of ideas are coming in those brainstorming sessions.”
As Latinx Heritage Month comes to a close, Peña says it is important to recognize the contributions that Hispanic and Latinx members of UI Health Care make regularly to the field of medicine and the community as a whole.
“This country has become the greatest experiment for democracy, and I believe what makes it that strong is the diversity that we have,” he says. “And, of course, the Hispanic and Latinx community is a big component of that.”