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A Piece of My Mind
January 13, 1999

Too Sad

Author Affiliations

Edited by Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1999;281(2):112-113. doi:10.1001/jama.281.2.112

I learned something about ethnicity when I first started practice in Worcester, Massachusetts, at that time a city with the largest percentage of first- and second-generation immigrants of any its size in the United States. One of my first patients asked me, "What are you?" I answered, "A family doctor," and she replied, "No. What are your people?" I responded, "German." She thought for a moment and declared, "Never met any Germans before." I hadn't thought of myself as anything, really, to that point because where I grew up, everyone was like me—white and Midwestern. So in Worcester, I started seeing patients as they described themselves: Irish, Italian, Armenian, Jewish, Greek, Assyrian (one man corrected my faux pas when I referred to him as Syrian by explaining that the Assyrians are completely different and an ancient people and there was a big difference between them and Syrians).