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Lissette M. Cespedes

New Jersey | Endocrinologist

I was born and raised in Union City, NJ and I am a first generation Cuban-American.   The importance of maintaining my Cuban heritage, despite growing up in the United States, was instilled from a young age, primarily through speaking Spanish at home. To this day, being bilingual is one of the greatest assets in my career. I owe much of my success to my mother, who raised my sister and I as a single parent since I was five. She emphasized the importance of education, particularly because she did not pursue a college degree.   One of my greatest accomplishments was graduating from medical school and becoming the first doctor in my family.

What have been your struggles as a Latina?

Growing up in Union City, NJ I never gave much thought to my ethnicity or race because most people around me looked and talked like me.   The similarities were not just physical, but also social and economical. This all changed when I started college. After graduating at the top of my high school class, I felt prepared to start at an Ivy League university.   For the first time in my life, those around me were different from me; physically, socially, and academically. It was difficult to navigate this environment while miles away from my family and everything that was familiar. Eventually, I did find support within the small Latino community on campus.

Another major struggle has been breaking the mold of my family’s expectation for me. Growing up, I was expected to take on what is deemed a traditional female role; that of a wife and mother who would have a 9 to 5 job and be the primary caretaker for the family. When I told my family I wanted to be a doctor, they tried to discourage me on the grounds that it would be difficult for me to fulfill their expected “traditional” female role while having a demanding career. Despite this, I pursued both my passion for medicine and my desire to be a wife and mother. Balancing a demanding medical career and a busy family is certainly difficult, but it is possible. It can be difficult to change our family’s perception and expectations of us. I was afraid to disappointment my family by choosing what they considered a “non-traditional” career. However, I was fortunate to find several Latina physicians who were my mentors and role models throughout my medical career.

What does Latina Made mean to you?

Latina Made is a movement to showcase a group of diverse, intelligent and empowered Latinas. We are breaking the mold and achieving leadership roles in our respective fields and by doing so we are changing the face of our fields.   We have overcome adversities and succeeded despite being discouraged.   More importantly, we are paving the way for our successors, in the hopes of inspiring the next generation of Latinas!

What made you who you are today?

It may sound cliche, but my mother has been my biggest catalyst for success and she made me who I am today. While she did not initially agree with my choice to become a doctor, nonetheless she was supportive. Despite being a single parent, my mom gave my sister and I 110% of her energy. She was adamant that we focus on our education and attend college, even though she did not go to college herself.   She would always say, “an education is something that no one can ever take away from you.” Those words fueled me in those difficult moments throughout my medical training, when I thought I might give up. She rallied behind all of my choices and continues to be my greatest cheerleader.

What advice would you give to young Latinas in our community?

I always encourage people to find a mentor. Mentorship was pivotal in my ability to achieve success in my career. I always encourage young people to find someone whom they can look up to, whom they think shares their values, and who is in a position they hope to be in someday and ask them to share their experience for achieving that success. Along my career, beginning as early as high school, I was able to connect with several mentors who were instrumental in leading me down the path to where I am today.   My mentors were all Latinas, in various leadership roles, and who encouraged me and said, “you can do it, too.” To this day, I remain in contact with these individuals and still turn to them for advice and guidance. Most people will be happy to share their path to success, if you ask them!

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