Andrew (Andy) Stephen Cruz, MD
Major: Music, concentration in Piano and a minor in Chemistry
Graduate school: Graduate Certificate in Piano Pedagogy from Texas Tech University, 2011
Medical school: Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, May 2015
Residency Training: University of Texas Southwestern, General Surgery; Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean/Harvard
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always loved the arts. I entertained careers in cinema, theatre, and classical music. They were all avenues that I was able to express myself through as a child.
What led to your interest in medicine?
As macabre as it sounds, the idea of shared suffering led me to medicine. I had two schizophrenic uncles and family members with cancer and heart disease who were suffering. Even my young uncle adjusting to college and the gentlemen on the street with the signs asking for money and a meal seemed connected. It became apparent to me that everyone was suffering in some capacity and medicine seemed like a unique and challenging way to relieve some of that struggle.
What experiences did you have that confirmed medicine was the right career for you?
The times that I have been able to share in the birth of a child or comfort a crying patient are the heart of medicine for me. The brain of medicine is the constant learning that allows you to make informed, evidence based decisions. The academic in me loves that part, but it’s those human experiences, those patient-doctor relationships that have really addicted me to this career. With each patient I learn something new about the human condition and myself.
Who or what inspired you?
As a child, my parents inspired me. Even without college degrees, they made sure my brother and I had every opportunity possible, no matter how much work that it required. We didn’t have a lot of things but we had so much love. My parents, mentors and friends that are determined to influence the world positively keep me motivated to improve our world so that everyone can be overwhelmed with the love I have been so fortunate to experience.
What made you decide to apply to medical school?
I was tired of sitting in a practice room for ten hours a day playing piano and only having one charity recital a year. It felt selfish to me. Something inside me said DO MORE. I wanted to get out into the world and use mind, my drive, and my passion to make a tangible difference every day. I thought that medical school would give me that opportunity.
Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?
Our homeless, uninsured, indigent population in Lubbock, Texas inspired me more than any individual. Sadly, they are plentiful and visible if you drive around the city. I wanted to be part of trying to help them.
How did you prepare for the medical school application process?
If procrastination were an Olympic sport I would be a gold-medalist. I applied late and did not prepare like I should have. I was fortunate to still get accepted but I hope the future medical school applicants reading will learn from my mistakes.
What is your top MCAT tip for applicants preparing to take the exam?
I took the exam twice. The first time I worked until the evening before the exam and could not go to sleep and the exam went poorly. The second time, instead of spending the day before at the library, I spent it at the pool with a margarita. I did much better. Prepare enthusiastically, and the day before have a margarita--ONE margarita.
Did you have any fears going into medical school?
I was worried that I had missed too much science in undergrad because I was a music major. That turned out not to be true. The concepts are not difficult in medical school, it is the amount of them. In that way, memorizing my forty-five minute sonatas, actually turned out to be a big help.
How did you prepare for medical school before your first day?
Rest and relaxation. I had learned my lesson from the MCAT. I backpacked Europe with one of my best friends and spent some time with family and friends.
What made your medical school the right fit for you?
Texas Tech is full of intelligent, thoughtful, and diverse people. Many of which are my best friends to this day. The leadership is open to student suggestion and change, which makes for a truly dynamic learning experience. I will cherish my experience there for the rest of my life.
What memory stands out the most from your first day of medical school?
This wonderful, sweet girl passed out in Anatomy Lab. I mean, so much happened that day but THAT I will never forget.
What was your first year of medical school like?
It was humbling and awesome. I learned that medical school really is challenging but with the right group of people surrounding you, it is doable and, even more than that, you can thrive.
Did you have to change any of your study habits?
I did. I used to a be flashcard guy but that only works in undergrad when you have one-hundred pages to turn into flash cards and not three-thousand. So I started reading and memorizing my books just like I did scores of music in undergraduate and graduate school. I started looking for patterns in disease processes and treatment just like I used to do with music.
Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.
This is actually kind of a running joke with my classmates and anyone who knows me. I told you I got into medicine for the people and that is apparent by my leadership activities: I was President of my Class all four years, President of Medical Student Government for one year, President of MusiCare for one year, and President of the Dean’s Contingency Fund for one year. I planned Spring training for the incoming class, served as President of our Chapter of GHHS for one year, served on the admissions committee for two years, started an annual group of charity recitals, and helped at free clinic a couple of times a semester. Every organization that I was a part of tried to take steps to become a more community based organization. Our goals were to give back to the city as much as possible and I believed we succeeded. I was over-involved but the lesson to learn is that if you find something you are really passionate about or some way you can make a difference in the world, do it and do it unceasingly. Well, actually do it within reason, which I think I like to tip toe around on.
What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?
Playing piano, composing, and going to the gym probably happen the most often. I also love movies, musical theatre and going to local art walks.
How do you balance your personal time with medical school?
Quite frankly, I did not have much personal time and I filled the time I did have with extra-curricular activities. That made me happy though. Whatever you do with your free time, be sure it makes you happy and re-energized.
How did you balance the demands of medical school with any additional obligations or challenges?
You have to learn to say no and to sleep fewer hours sometimes. Prioritize some things and understand others may fall to the side during this incredible journey. The great thing is when you finish you will be a doctor and you can always pick up old commitments and hobbies.
What obstacles did you overcome in your medical school journey?
The biggest and most personal was coming out as gay in medical school. It took being surrounded by such an understanding community for me to finally make this decision. It was so freeing and I’m so fortunate that it happened during the best years of my life.
What makes your story unique?
I’m a guy who graduated from a high school with a class of ten and went to a university that some of my residency interviewers hadn’t heard of, but I was determined. I knew in my heart that if I kept fighting I would make it to a place one day where I could make a difference in the world. I feel like I’m on the precipice now and I couldn’t be more thankful.
What did you enjoy most about medical school?
The friends I made. They are family.
What surprised you the most about medical school?
How much the administration cares for the students. I and number of my classmates were comforted, supported and loved both in school situations and personal ones.
Are you a member of a unique demographic?
I’m a gay Hispanic-American male and my brother and I graduated college even though my parents were not afforded that opportunity.
Why did you chose your specialty?
This is a loaded question. I chose surgery first because the precision and the operating room really reminded me of performing piano on a stage. I thought those similarities were enough, but for me, I felt that during surgery residency I was working ON patients and I wanted to be working WITH them more. If I look back at my childhood ideas and how my life has progressed, the truth is that I have always been a psychiatrist standing at the junction of art and medicine trying to relieve suffering.
What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in medicine?
If there are other subjects or interests that you have then you should explore them. Each unique experience is needed and valued in medicine. Becoming as well-rounded as you can will make you the best physician you can be. Never let someone talk you out of volunteering with a non-profit for a year, majoring in art history, or spending some time in another country making a difference.
If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him/her, off the top of your head?
You are unique, extraordinary and whether you choose medicine or something else, choose what you are passionate about because then you will change the world.