In the Halls of Hematology: Meet Dr. Warsame
Meet Rahma Warsame, M.D., a Mayo Clinic hematologist specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of myeloma, amyloidosis, and other plasma cell disorders. In addition to her experience as a medical provider, Dr. Warsame has become a leader of diversity and inclusion for the division of Hematology. Dr. Warsame uses her own experiences and background as a way to help patients and trainees feel welcome at Mayo Clinic.
Your path to medical school and becoming a provider was not easy and a bit of a journey, do you mind telling us a bit more about it?
I was a refugee from Somalia. We fled to Canada when I was five years old. Women and children were allowed to leave first, and we then sponsored my father to join us in Canada. I remember it quite distinctly because it was April and there was snow. I had never seen snow before and I remember it being so cold. It was all quite scary for a five-year-old.
What was the ‘culture shock’ like moving from Somalia to Canada?
It was huge.
Every single aspect of our life was different. We didn’t know where we were going to live, how long we were going to stay there, and we didn’t speak the language.
While I learned the language in kindergarten, my mother actually learned it with me. Also, if anyone tells you that you can’t learn English from television, they have not really tried! Sesame Street, Mr. Rodgers, and Inspector Gadget taught me quite a bit!
From refugee camp, to Canada, to learning a new language, to medical school. That is quite the progression.
My parents were strong advocates for education. They felt passionate that our opportunity for career and social mobility would be through education. Physicians are highly regarded in developing nations. They not only treat your illnesses, they often are one of the only friendly faces you see. My mom always talked so highly of them growing up.
I grew up in Toronto, but I didn’t get in to medical school in Canada. I couldn’t afford medical school in the United States due to the international fees, and so I decided to go to medical school in the Caribbean. I wanted to do something that was going to make an impact. I felt compelled to take advantage of my opportunity coming from a refugee camp. We were lucky, not everyone gets out.
Canada to the Caribbean: What was medical school in the Caribbean like?
I went to medical school on the island of Saba which is only five total square miles. It was an absolutely beautiful island. Medicine and supplies were very limited there. As a result, medical students were given a lot of responsibility and practiced a wide variety of patient care. Saba has an interesting population because many of the older kids and young adults go to the large islands for schooling and job opportunities. They often return when they are older, so the population tends to be largely adolescent and geriatric.
After medical school on a small island in the Caribbean, how did you find your way to Mayo Clinic Rochester?
When you are in medical school, Mayo Clinic is regarded as a mecca of medicine. You hope to one day even be able to visit, so when I got my invitation in residency it was such an honor. I thought, ‘well at least I’d get to visit Mayo Clinic if I get an interview.’ The interview process was an exceptional experience. It was supportive, evidence-based and about the patient. I ranked them number one and prayed. I was so excited when I matched with Mayo Clinic. I still remember that day so fondly!
Diversity played a large role in your upbringing and journey through medicine. How has that helped you in your career as a healthcare provider?
When you are a refugee, you have very little to fall back on. I felt like I had no choice but to be driven and successful. Because of that, and my background, I am the diversity leader for the division of Hematology. Before that, I was the diversity co-chair on the Mayo Fellows Association. We host(ed) events focused on diversity and inclusion, monthly dinners for visiting medical students, and surveyed people on their perceptions of diversity and inclusion and potential barriers at Mayo Clinic.
Mayo Clinic is a unique place, where even if you are the only person from a particular culture, it’s OK, because we will support you. Diverse ideas and different points-of-view make things better. You get employees that are more comfortable which leads to patients being more comfortable. Mayo Clinic fosters so much support, I feel honored I have the opportunity to help make things better in areas not everyone may know or understand. I think we all have areas in our own life that we can do better, and that is what I am trying to do.
There will always be misunderstandings between different cultures, but they are not moments to be angry, they are teaching moments and an opportunity to build a bridge between people. I think we build a lot of bridges here. People may have preconceived notions, but people remember people. A lot of times, I believe you can change someone’s mind through a positive interaction.
You have been in Rochester, Minnesota since 2010, what would you say to patients and incoming Mayo Clinic employees about Med City?
In the eight years I have been here, the city has changed dramatically. We have a stand-alone Starbucks now! Joking aside, the people here are friendly. We have also seen a recent boom in artistry, industry, and an increase of people having more cultural conversations. Rochester may seem small, but it has many cultures, activities, and places that help newcomers feel welcome. I try to help convey that.
The winters can be rough for anyone who has not experienced a real winter though. It gets dark early, it can be cold, and it can be hard. In medicine; depression, addiction, and burnout are high all risks. You really need support and a sense of community, and I feel that I can help provide those resources as a diversity leader.
When you are not practicing medicine, what are some of your hobbies?
Movies and literature. I am a huge reader. To the point where I have started my own book club. It started with just my husband and I but grew out of request. A true lover of literature has many favorites, but if I had to pick one it would be the Alchemist by Pablo Cuelo.
I love movies also, and the Oscars are a crazy time for me because I enjoy trying to see all of the movies up for best picture. I don’t always agree with the nominations for best picture though, some movies you wonder to yourself, ‘how did this movie get nominated?’ I also love the musical scores of films, especially Last of the Mohicans. When I am not reading or watching a movie I love to travel and see and experience new places and cultures.