I have two genuine passions in life: ballet and medicine. My interest for ballet came at a very young age. I started dancing at the age of 6 and, ever since, ballet became a great part of my life and biggest passion for some time.
As a ballet student, I had the opportunity to train and dance with some of the best schools of the world, American, Cuban and Russian. At the age of 15 I earned a scholarship with The Washington School of Ballet, and by the age of seventeen I was dancing with a professional company in Puerto Rico. These experiences not only gave me the opportunity to travel to different countries where I learned and explored different ballet techniques, but also allowed me to explore other cultures, thus widening my perspectives towards life.
I am a firm believer that the art of classical ballet taught me about self-control and commitment, widening my will and disposition to work hard towards any goal I set in my life. Long daily hours of training and practice helped me become a more organized and disciplined individual, therefore enhancing my ability to work in a group, and to adjust and balance my time between studies, work and ballet. I learned to make advantageous use of my time as a result of discipline and great effort.
Even though ballet absorbed a great deal of my energy and time, it did not impede me from focusing on a professional career in science and the pursuit of my goal to become a physician. Both disciplines—my ballet and my academic studies--definitely complemented one another in my life, with positive results.
My decision to become a physician was greatly influenced and empowered by both of my grandfathers, who served as very positive medical role-models, as well as a result of personal experiences with disease, volunteer summer work with autistic children, and ballet teaching to disabled children. Ultimately, I was drawn into the medical profession by my commitment to serve others in need, especially those underserved.
In preparation for my goal, a career in medicine, I participated in summer medical and investigative programs, specifically, the Summer Medical and Dental Educational Program (SMDEP) at Columbia University and the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program at The University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. I also participated in hospital clinical experiences (shadowing) in various fields in medicine in Puerto Rico and United States. As a result, these experiences increased my genuine interest in the care of the disadvantaged, disabled and those in need.
I firmly believe that the biopsychosocial emphasis at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry will provide, develop, strengthen and enable me with the necessary skills and tools to give others in need the best health care.
I was born and raised in Rochester, New York. My pursuit of a career in medicine is the result of a multitude of opportunities and experiences. One of my earliest experiences was right after 7th grade, when I was still a typical kid content to enjoy summers with friends playing soccer and tennis. My parents sent me to Purdue University to attend a summer Middle School Science program for students interested in science and to learn first-hand what college was all about. A year later, my parents opened my eyes to the wonders of biological science and medicine through a year-long Science and Technology Enrichment Program (STEP) offered at the University of Rochester's Medical School, geared towards minority students in the community. Even though I was somewhat reluctant at first, my parents were determined to give me all the opportunities that they were never privileged to have. STEP allowed me to participate in Problem Based Learning sessions, perform research in an Otolaryngology lab, as well as explore other aspects of medical school.
I attended Xavier University of Louisiana, which has an excellent track record for training future doctors. I majored in Biology, and fortuitously during my Freshman year, a summer internship recruiter on campus offered me an opportunity to participate in a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship internship at the University of Rochester. That summer, I studied the effects of Frog Virus 3 (FV3) on immunocompromised Xenopus. I was also able to experience different aspects of the medical school curriculum and learn more about the biophysicosocial model, for which the U of R medical school is so famous, and to do clinical rotations in the Emergency Department.
While at Xavier I also experienced the worst natural disaster in American history, Hurricane Katrina, and saw first hand those affected by the collapse of the city's health care system. I volunteered and mentored students who did not have a school nurse and access to basic health care services, and who therefore went for days and weeks without basic medical treatment or medication. Even though I returned home for a semester, I went back to New Orleans and Xavier with a stronger dedication to pursue my dream of completing my college education and pursuing a career in medicine. I wanted to do all that I could to prevent a recurrence of such a fundamental breakdown in health care services.
In my free time, during summer and Christmas vacations, I continue to volunteer at Perinton Volunteer ambulance, helping technicians and paramedics help those who are vulnerable and in need of assistance, especially the elderly.
Together, all of these experiences have solidified my interest in medicine. Being a Rochester native I knew I always wanted to eventually come home. With a strong emphasis on patient care through the biopsychosocial model and an incredibly supportive faculty and student body, I knew the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry was the ideal place for me to pursue a degree in medicine. Now that I am back in my native city, I am happy to have an opportunity to contribute in whatever way I can to the U of R medical school and to the Rochester community for all the experiences and support I have been given over the years.
Three years ago I fulfilled a childhood dream when I signed a contract to play professional soccer for the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer (MLS). Yet, during my one season of playing professionally I realized that I was looking for a career that challenged, stimulated, and engaged me in a different way. I stumbled somewhat serendipitously upon medicine.
I grew up in Portland, OR, and sports have always been an integral part of my life. Even today, I love athletic competition as well as the opportunity to push myself physically. Many of the most important life lessons that I have learned—in discipline, teamwork, leadership, and confidence—have all come from the soccer field. Additionally, I had the opportunity to experience success as part of a team, having finished second in the nation while playing for Stanford University and completing the regular season at San Jose with the top record in MLS.
Despite enjoying the three-hour work days while playing for San Jose, I quickly realized important aspects in my job were missing. First, I missed being challenged intellectually as I had been as an undergraduate at Stanford. I studied Economics and was fascinated by the application of theoretical models to the real world. Second, I longed to play a different role in the world. During college, volunteer experiences with hospice, a local children's hospital, and the Special Olympics, convinced me that there is nothing more rewarding and fulfilling than caring entirely for another person. In addition to the intellectual challenge, this fulfillment was lacking in my profession in MLS. However, at the time I wasn't sure how I was going to make care giving a part of my life and work.
The tipping point in my story came mid-way through my year in San Jose when my best friend suggested I think about medicine. At the time I was growing more and more discontent with my current situation. My friend's suggestion was one of those "ah-hah!" moments. Coming from a family with no health care professionals, I had never given medicine a thought. Yet after reflecting on the experiences in my past that I had found most rewarding, I hung up my soccer cleats and have not looked back since. I enrolled in a post-bac program to complete the pre-med requirements and am now here at Rochester. In my first month here I have been amazed by the incredible individuals in my class. Daily, the talent and diversity remind me of why I chose Rochester.
Although I have stopped playing professionally, I hope to integrate my soccer knowledge and ability into my future profession as a physician. I am particularly interested in the role soccer can play in public health initiatives internationally. As the most popular sport in the world, soccer provides an excellent platform from which health care professionals can reach out to diverse populations and in particular the young people within those communities. Through the international opportunities that Rochester offers, I look forward to exploring the opportunity to unite soccer and health education overseas.
I am Diné from Tuba City, Arizona on the Navajo Nation. I am of the Towering House Clan and born for the Reed People. My maternal grandfather is of the Salt Clan and my paternal grandfather is of the Edgewater Clan. I grew up as the oldest of six children in a beautiful place outside of Tuba City. It is an area that doesn’t have a formal name but is referred to by its nearest geographical feature, Shadow Mountain. Growing up in a traditional Navajo (or Diné, as we prefer to be called) household, I was told to always introduce myself properly in this way. My story of how I arrived here to study medicine at the University of Rochester begins with my family and our Diné beliefs.
I grew up in a very close family in an area where everyone who lives within a five-mile radius is related to me. The land that we live on is the same land on which my mom, my grandmother, her parents and grandparents had lived and raised their livestock. Up until my parent’s generation, living a successful life didn’t depend on a formal education. Life was about raising a strong herd of sheep and cattle and living the Diné philosophy of Hozhó, which is a term that encompasses balance and beauty in all aspects of life. In Diné philosophy, an illness is more than just a physical ailment but involves a complex web of evil that is a result of an imbalance in Hozhó. Seeking treatment means going to visit a healer that can cure the illness in relation to restoring the balance back into your entire being. A healer reaches you on a spiritual level and speaks the language of the ancient people who are called upon to help you in your healing. In this way, Hozhó can be restored and you can be considered to be cured.
My family has a very long history of cancer, mainly of the colon and stomach. All of my grandfather’s siblings have passed on from cancer and many other family members have dealt with it at some point. Growing up I spent so much time in and out of hospitals showing our support and, in most cases, paying our last respects. My grandmother passed on from stomach cancer and, more recently, my grandfather passed on from leukemia after previously having cancer three different times. My uncles have all had cancer, two of whom have had it twice. Having grown up in an isolated world on the Navajo Nation, I had no idea that this number of cases in one family was not normal. After spending some part of my education off the reservation, I began to make larger comparisons and realize more and more that there was something wrong.
Spending so much time in hospitals while growing up, I had interacted with doctors almost regularly by watching them attend to my family members and getting involved by translating between English and Navajo. As I became more involved in translating and helping my family to understand certain issues, I felt that somehow the doctors needed my help. Before high school I decided that I wanted to become a doctor and made the best of my education and took advantage of other educational opportunities elsewhere. I attended a math and science summer program at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA for three consecutive summers and strengthened my background in those areas. My mother told me that if I wanted to go to college, I had to do well in school to receive scholarships because she couldn’t save anything for college as I had five younger siblings at home. I worked hard, graduated valedictorian of Tuba City High School and received more than enough scholarship money from various sources to attend Dartmouth College, where I received a B.A. in Mathematics without putting financial stress on my family.
I was very impressed with the University of Rochester’s biopsychosocial model of learning medicine and felt that it would integrate all aspects of my traditional beliefs into a great medical education. I spent the last bit of my grandmother’s life at her bedside talking with her for hours about my plans for my life, which included how I wanted to become a doctor. She expressed her concern about how the world (of the Diné) was changing into that of the “white” people and how Western medicine was taking over traditional healing and knowledge. I convinced her that I was not going to leave my Diné teachings but that I was looking for a way to integrate and balance Western medicine into our traditional sense of healing. She said that she was very proud of my courage and willingness to continue and that as long as I was in touch with the Creator by giving thanks for all that Mother Earth provides for me, I should be able to maintain Hozhó and bring whatever I needed to back home to help our people.
I wish I could say that I’ve wanted to be a doctor all my life or that I had a life-changing experience that led me directly to medicine. Essays would be much easier to write. But let’s say that my road to medicine and Rochester began in childhood, when I was growing up in Southern California, wanting to be a professional athlete. I was so romantic and impractical with my dreams of playing softball (…I know…), but how could I not be? I loved it. But as college lurked in the near future, I began looking in a new direction. I attended the University of California, Berkeley, where I majored in mathematics and became practical and sensible. I considered teaching high school math as a career after several years of tutoring and coaching high school softball.
Before committing to becoming a math-lete (literally), I wanted to explore first. Maybe it was the volunteering with the underserved or going to a liberal school like Cal or my own modest background, but I left college with a need to serve and help others. So, I thought about medicine, an idea I toyed with in high school. In short, I worked for a couple doctors, volunteered at a free clinic, completed a post-baccalaureate program, and did research. After all that and an introspective, existentialist, soul-searching verification of medicine as my true "Pathway," I have finally evolved from impractical to practical to somewhere in between. I found a comfortable and perfect balance—a balance I saw paralleled in the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. We have a Nobel prize medal on display in our medical school entry way, the Biopsychosocial Model of medical education and practice, the contemplative Medical Humanities electives, and the integrated hardcore-science classes…I could go on and on. No other place with so much snow can feel like home and encourage my faith of becoming a complete physician.