As a first-generation college student, a proud daughter of immigrant house cleaners, and first-generation graduate of UC Merced, my journey into medicine is a nontraditional one.
My first experiences with health care disparities stemmed from my childhood in the urban underserved Crows Landing community in south Modesto.
From the age of seven, as daughter to Spanish-speaking immigrants, I was my parents’ medical interpreter — never as a choice, but a necessity. My mother’s lack of health insurance left her without a primary care doctor and we made multiple visits to the emergency room. The ER was my first introduction to medicine and though not fully comprehending it then, it was during these visits that I began to realize the emergency room is the only access for the most disenfranchised and indigent populations.
After graduation from UC Merced, I took time to better understand the pathway to medicine. Mentorship was pivotal to my journey as I had no family member to help me understand how to apply to medical school. I took advantage of my “ganas” (will) to reach out to community professionals to help me. I am especially thankful to Stergios “Steve” Roussos, with the Alliance for Community Research and Development; Dr. Krystal Chan; Tatiana Vizcaino-Stewart, Health Equity Project consultant in Merced; Claudia Corchado, with Cultiva La Salud; Phoebe Seaton, with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability; Dr. Jose Morfin, at the UC Davis School of Medicine and Dr. Kenny Banh, at UCSF Fresno.
Various communities along Highway 99 taught me that oversees travel is unnecessary to see beautiful, yet blighted communities facing issues difficult to fathom. The community of Planada showed me the need for community infrastructure to combat obesity. In Empire, I learned there are more liquor and check-cashing stores than grocery stores. Parklawn’s United Neighbors community advocacy group took me to sewage saturated backyards where sewage seeps into this unincorporated island’s community drinking water because there is no public sewer system. Beechwood-Franklin leaders allowed me to advocate alongside concerned parents and residents for safer routes to school as their children must walk four miles to school due to district budget cuts to the bus program.
These communities allowed me to experience the perils facing our great San Joaquin Valley, ranging from systemic issues such as health access to clean drinking water. Most importantly, they helped prepare me to work in underserved communities and allowed me to meet mentors and prove to the UC Davis post-baccalaureate program and later, the UC Davis School of Medicine admissions committee, that I deserved a spot in the San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education (SJV PRIME). As part of SJV PRIME, I spent my first and second-years at the UC Davis medical school campus. I spent my third-year doing clinical training at UCSF Fresno and I am continuing at UCSF Fresno for my fourth year. I am the medical student director of the student-run UCSF Fresno Health and Learning (HeaL) Mobile Clinic.
I owe a great deal of thanks to my mentors and the SJV PRIME. My aspiration to become a doctor has never wavered because of patients like one Planada community leader I met. “Once you’re a doctor, you’ll be back, right?” he asked me warmly in Spanish with the undeniable aroma of developing diabetic ketoacidosis on his breath. Responding with a “yes” and a hug, I envisioned myself coming full circle to provide much needed direct health services in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.
As a future Valley physician, I envision my workday going beyond the clinical and into the community. I want to continue to serve as a resource, as an advocate for patients and a medical provider. I plan to promote much needed pipeline programs, mentor youth who aspire to become doctors, as well as advocate for public and private support for UC’s Programs in Medical Education, including SJV PRIME.
To address the health inequities faced by our Valley communities, we must continue to recruit, train and retain future physicians from the Valley — like me. To get there, we need support from the community and legislators.