Undergraduate: University of California, San Diego, 2013
Major: General Biology (Spanish Literature Minor)
Graduate: University of California, San Diego, M.S. in Biology, 2015
Medical school: University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, 2021
Specialty: mostly likely Pediatrics-related
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I think I knew I wanted to be a doctor since I was about 12 years old. Although at that age I was torn between being a doctor and a fashion designer, but I’m glad now I went with being a doctor.
What led to your interest in medicine?
Growing up, I really loved my pediatrician, Dr. Patton, and I liked the idea of seeing people (patients) every day. I was also pretty good at math and science, and medicine seemed really fascinating. Even though I have dyslexia (a learning disability) and reading was not my forte in grade school, I had big dreams, and I wanted to make them happen!
As a teenager, I also enjoyed working as a summer camp counselor in Northern California. For two weeks of each summer, children who were recovering from organ transplants or finishing cancer treatments came to camp. It was a very powerful experience.
What experiences did you have that confirmed medicine was the right career for you?
To be honest, I don’t know if I had one experience where I knew medicine was the right career for me. Also, I never had that feeling that medicine is the only thing I could see myself doing. In fact, throughout the application process to medical school, I had a lot of doubt about whether this was the right choice for me, or if I was cut out for it. Luckily, almost all of those feelings went away after I started medical school. Even though the material is hard, it’s captivating. I like what I’m doing, and I feel very honored and privileged to have the opportunity to become a doctor.
Who or what inspired you?
Another inspiration for me, besides my pediatrician is Dr. Paul Farmer, who started the non-profit, Partners in Health. Medicine is a very cool field where you can help people in your office, and you can also use it in the fight for social justice, if you so choose.
Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
Yes, a lot of people tried to discourage me from going to medical school! Countless people told me that it’s “such a long road,” wouldn’t I “rather be a PA or NP instead”? Fortunately, I had my mom pointing out that the training is not SO much longer to become a doctor, and in the end, a doctor’s role is different from an NP or PA’s role in the healthcare setting. I remember I was telling a woman on a plane that I wanted to be a doctor, and she was saying, “Oh man, that’s a lot of work—you sure you don’t want to be a nurse instead?” I can’t tell if it’s because I’m a woman or because medicine is so hard, but it was funny how perfect strangers would try to dissuade me from becoming a doctor. Now that I’m “on the long road,” it really doesn’t seem so long – in fact, the first year of medical school kind of flew by.
How did you prepare for the medical school application process?
Medical school applications are tough, because you want to have good grades, a good MCAT score, research experience, and volunteer and/or clinical experience. I did not get all of that done in four years, although I’m amazed by the people who do. As I was about to graduate from UC San Diego, I decided to apply to the continuous B.S./M.S. research-based master’s program, because I did not have much research experience, and I did not know many professors personally.
My favorite part of the research-based master’s program was not actually the research. It was working as a biology TA with undergraduate students. I also spent two summers working with the non-profit, “Amigos de las Américas,” which was very rewarding. If I could give any advice to pre-meds, I would say: do what you enjoy and what you find interesting. Medical schools want to see that you have done things that you are passionate about. I remember being worried about spending so much time working for a non-profit (like Amigos) that was not explicitly healthcare-related, but it ended up being a great talking point on most of my interviews.
Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?
Yes, as a person with dyslexia, my primary concern was making sure that I would get extended time (x1.5) on this demanding and fast-paced test. I’ve been receiving extended time on tests since I was about 9 years old, and I received extended time on the SAT and all my tests in college. I had to get a new psycho-educational assessment (because each assessment is only considered relevant for five years), but I applied for this accommodation and got it. Extended time for the verbal section of the MCAT was essential for me, since I am a slow reader and I like to read aloud when I can. When it is time for the USMLE Step 1 exam, which I take at the end of my second year, I will apply for testing accommodations then as well.
Did you have any fears going into medical school?
Oh my gosh—tons of fears! I was convinced that I wasn’t smart enough to be in medical school, that I wouldn’t be able to handle the workload, and that I would have zero time for friends, self-care, etc., while in school. I’m happy to say that I was completely wrong about all of those things. I am definitely smart enough to be in medical school (despite my dyslexia), I can handle the workload, and my workout routine is even better in medical school, because it’s my main stress-reliever.
What made your medical school the right fit for you?
I like to say, “things have a way of working out,” which is definitely the case with me and the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine. UM is the perfect fit for me because I hate cold winters and I love speaking Spanish and travelling to Latin America. Whenever I leave the campus, I’m constantly speaking Spanish at the coffee shop, at the gas station, in an Uber, etc., which I love. I also put on my application to UM that I love to Salsa dance, and after an exam, I go out Salsa dancing! UM is also great because they have several free clinics in the community where I can go and volunteer as a Spanish-English translator on a weeknight. Additionally, UM puts on health fairs that happen in different neighborhoods of Miami – Little Haiti, Hialeah, Liberty City, the Keys, etc. Miami is so culturally and ethnically diverse, I feel really lucky that this is where I get to learn to practice medicine.
Miami Miller was my first choice of all the schools I applied to because they had a very detailed secondary application that indicated to me that they were interested in me as a person, in addition to my grades and test scores. The faculty and students I met during my interview were very knowledgeable and cool, and the school has a low student to teacher ratio (3 to 1). Finally, I want to add that I’m in the MD/MPH program at UM, and I received a population-health-scholar award to do my public health fieldwork in Lima, Peru, during my summer between my first and second year. I had the opportunity to volunteer with Partners in Health in Peru, which was a truly transformative experience. After admiring Dr. Paul Farmer for so long, it felt like the fulfillment of a dream to work for his non-profit, working on a project that sought to eliminate Tuberculosis in high-burden areas.
Did you have to change any of your study habits?
Honestly, there’s a lot of hype about “changing the way you study,” and doing something “totally different,” but my study habits did not dramatically change compared to college. I always studied a lot, but now I just study a bit more. I try to get together with one particular classmate/study buddy before a test so we can quiz each other on the material (something I did not do in undergrad), and I use the flashcard app Anki now. There’s lots of reading, lots of note taking, and as an auditory learner, I kind of love that medical school is more lecture-based than textbook-based.
As a dyslexic and auditory learner, I have ended up trying a few new approaches to studying such a high volume and dense amount of material. One strategy I recently tried is recording myself reading my professors’ PowerPoints, and then playing it back and listening to it for review.
What obstacles did you overcome in your medical school journey?
One of my biggest obstacles was overcoming my self-doubt and getting all of my ducks in a row for my applications. I definitely take responsibility for not getting good grades my first year of college.
Also, I realized 2 to 3 months into my research-based master’s program that research really was not for me, and that bench work did not suit my outgoing personality. Despite not loving research, I still saw that program through to its completion. Finally, when I worked as a scribe in San Francisco, I struggled to learn the ropes, and I was constantly compared against an older, more experienced scribe. But I kept my head down, and eventually I became a beloved scribe too. A tip for premeds: even if you don’t love scribing or research or another health- or medically-related experience, that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to love medical school or becoming a doctor.
What makes your story unique?
I think my story is unique because I don’t think there are that many practicing physicians who are dyslexic. I went from being one of the last people in my second-grade class to learn to read, to training to become a doctor – that’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t be here without the support and advocacy of my parents, who taught me how to advocate for myself. As a child, I was very sensitive about needing to take my tests in another room with extra time. I remember the learning specialist saying, "Rebecca, faster does not mean better. You might take a slightly longer path to get to an answer, but getting the right answer is what matters – not how long it took you to get there.” The same is true for medical school – I’m 29 years old, and maybe I didn’t take the shortest path to get here, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m here now. I often say, “Raw intelligence can get you pretty far, but a good work ethic will carry you through your entire life.”
What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in medicine?
There’s a stereotype that medical students have perfect grades, perfect MCAT scores, amazing research, volunteer-work, etc., but no one expects you to be perfect. Full disclosure: I got straight C’s in general chemistry my freshman year of college, but I was able to come back from that. I was more successful in organic chemistry than general chemistry. I did research, worked as a scribe, and at the end of the day, my application showed a real commitment to science and the medical field. Don’t give up on your dream just because people say it’s a long road – nothing worthwhile is ever easy.