What led to your interest in a career in medicine? Who or what inspired you?
My earliest inspiration towards pursuing a medical career stemmed from the great example set forth by my father who practiced as a surgeon in his native continent of Africa. He demonstrated the pivotal role that a physician plays in the community. He showed me that what you do for your patients affects not only the individuals you treat, but also their friends, loved ones, family members, and the community, as a whole. He spent his life treating patients in urban and rural settings, both elderly and young, and the affluent and the disadvantaged. Regardless of their background, they all sought the same thing: to be alleviated of their infirmities and to seek relief from disease and suffering.
Growing up, I sat in awe hearing the stories of how he recalled to me the impact my father made in his patients’ lives and the great joy that he derived from practicing the profession he loved so dearly. It really touched me to know you how much you can help people as a physician, because health is a universal thing that all people seek. You can transcend boundaries and borders by providing that essential state of well-being that everyone strives for.
I was always appreciated a hands-on approach to my education, and therefore was equally as interested in a surgical career as my father. In particular, throughout my studies, anything related to the brain and/or neurons always intrigued me. Therefore, my top choice for a future career is neurosurgery.
It fascinated me the way that our nerves were able to conduct sensations that ranged from pain, touch, warmth, and cold all the way to the complex processes that our brain processed such as mathematical calculations, speech formulation, or emotions such as happiness or euphoria. It also pained me greatly to see that malfunctions of these systems caused people to suffer on a daily basis and this included my mother who suffered with fibromyalgia throughout her life. After realizing that everyone was susceptible to disease, including my own mother, I knew what career path that I wanted to pursue: medicine.
How did you prepare for the application process?
After graduating from high school early, I pursued an undergraduate education at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where I earned a bachelor's degree in molecular, cell, and developmental biology. During my time there, I thoroughly enjoyed receiving an education that provided a solid background in the sciences. I wanted to learn about life from the ground up, so to speak; so I appreciated learning about biology and disease from the level of the cell, the essential building block of life and the first step to the pathogenesis of many disorders.
During my time there I did not limit my pursuits to the sciences as I also pursued classes that interested me such as ancient history, Spanish, Italian, and other diverse humanities courses that allowed me to appreciate a well-rounded education and outlook on life.
I also applied my newfound knowledge in the pursuit of inquiring scientific mysteries by working in the Molecular Biology and Neuroscience Laboratory, where I completed a baccalaureate thesis on delineating what cell types played a role in neural degeneration because I felt that by understanding the process better we can better help patients regenerate damaged neurons one day.
In addition, I pursued a broad spectrum of extracurricular activities that piqued my interest in the community because I felt that by understanding the community that we treat, we can best learn how to serve them. Therefore, I went to school full-time but also volunteered with the Los Angeles Police Department, California State Senator Gilbert Cedillo, the UCLA Chapter of the Mortar Board Honor Society, shadowing physicians, and serving as a youth leader at a local religious institution.
Regarding the application process, I felt that my undergraduate education gave me a good foundation for all the knowledge I needed in terms of the biological sciences, physical sciences, verbal reasoning, and writing sections of the MCAT exam. I also utilized a KAPLAN review course which I felt helped me focus my studies. I studied for only a few weeks while I was taking other classes. I feel that for some it may be more useful to wait until you have a light course load or even when you aren't taking any classes (during break time, perhaps) to study for one's MCAT.
I utilized the assistance of my undergraduate pre-health advisor and contacted medical schools that I was interested in directly to find out the specifics of each of their requirements. I submitted my primary application (AMCAS) and promptly completed the secondary applications for schools I was invited to complete.
Please describe related volunteer work or research experience that relates to your career:
I participated in honors research for the department of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at UCLA and was part of the UCLA Undergraduate Research Program Scholars that completed his baccalaureate thesis on assessing the role of macrophages and granulocytes.
I also had a unique internship experience with California State Senator Gilbert Cedillo, in which I was able to use my Spanish language fluency and cultural background to reach out to the entire community, including to those that were extremely underprivileged and underserved.
What obstacles or hurdles did you overcome in your medical school journey?
I grew up in a severely underserved community in Southern California and had several disadvantages growing up as I did not readily have access to sufficient health care or educational opportunities. However, my greatest hindrance to trying to fulfill my dreams of becoming a physician came during my application cycle to medical school.
In January of my application year, after I had submitted my AMCAS application, after I had received many invitations to interview at multiple medical schools, I was working as a teaching assistant. While making my way back home from work, I nearly lost my life to a drunk driver who hit my vehicle. My car hit a freeway support pillar and my vehicle collapsed in on me. I was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where I remained in extremely critical condition, had multiple intracranial hemorrhages, and went through an intense and arduous recovery.
Through family support, great medical care, and superior motivation I was able to make a recovery, gain acceptance to medical school before the end of the application cycle of the same year and I am now a very successful medical student who has received multiple important awards for recognition of my accomplishments as a medical student.
Are you a member of a unique demographic? Please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.
I stem from a culturally diverse background in that I am both African-American and Hispanic. In addition, I did not have access to the sufficient medical care or educational opportunities growing up and had to work hard to achieve both.
What makes your story unique?
What makes my story unique is the combination of insufficient access to educational opportunities and health care. Even in light of accomplishing many great academic feats such as maintaining a perfect academic record and doing very well on my MCAT, I almost lost my life and my dream of becoming a physician. However, through hard work, faith, and great medical care, I am now living my dream and hope to help save others.
What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?
I want those considering a medical career to know that they have just accomplished the first step to becoming a physician. We were all in their shoes in the past simply contemplating the future with many of the obstacles that lay forth. Applying, financing, education, selecting a school, classes, and residencies all pose significant challenges.
However, there is help and guidance along each step of the way. Significant financial support is available for those that seek it. The application process demands time and effort, but there are so many resources out there to help you that you can accomplish all of your goals. One of the greatest resources I found was in the Medical Student Admissions Requirements (MSAR) Guidebook published by the AAMC every year.
Do you have additional information or thoughts to share that would be helpful to prospective students?
I want you to know that if you have the dream of becoming a physician, do not let it go!
In fact, I have a little sister who is currently applying to medical school. I know that she has the desire, courage, and drive to become an amazing doctor. No matter how difficult the application process gets, I always encourage her to keep going because I know she, just like you, has the potential to contribute extraordinarily to society as a physician.
People from all walks of life and backgrounds have chosen medicine as their path. You will make an amazing doctor if you want to reach out to humanity and make a difference in people's lives. Medicine allows you to transcend all limits and provide care to everyone regardless of race, creed, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or citizenship. It will be one of the most rewarding pursuits you will find.
Take it from someone who almost lost their life and did not know what hardships lay ahead. When I started medical school in 2009 I was not fully recovered and did not know what I could have accomplished. However, by the end of that first academic year I served as the OSR Representative to the AAMC for my medical school and received an award to work on neurosurgery research from Pauletta and Denzel Washington as the 2010 Graduate Awardee of the Pauletta and Denzel Washington Family Gifted Scholars Program in Neurosciences.