My name is Christy Ruiz, and I am a public health graduate student applying to physician assistant (PA) school in May 2020. I aspire to become a primary care PA that serves my local community and remains involved in research and advocacy. My past clinical work experiences range from dental assistant to physical therapy aide. Recently, I completed a phlebotomy course and am looking forward to my externship. I wanted to share a little about my heritage and how it has shaped my academic journey and future in healthcare in hopes to inspire other minority students.
When I tell people I am Cuban, one typical response is, “you don’t look Cuban.” I follow that up with, “so, how are Cubans supposed to look like?” That usually is preceded with a blank stare. I am not only Cuban though. My ethnicity is Cuban and Colombian. My dad immigrated to the United States from Colombia in search of a safer life. At the same time, my mom and her family left everything behind in Cuba in search of freedom after Fidel Castro took over. I was born and raised in Miami, FL, in a predominantly Cuban neighborhood. Both of my parents did not speak English, and as an only child, I served as their interpreter and quickly learned more about adulting than I needed to at a young age. I aspired to enter college right after high school, but I began to work at a restaurant instead. I tried college here and there in my early 20s, but as a first-generation college student, I was lost and soon dropped out.
After finding out I was expecting my first child while living in San Diego, I enrolled in a 9-month dental assistant certificate program. Once I gained my registered dental assistant license, I felt empowered. I began to learn more about healthcare and started to believe I was capable of more. Motivated, I enrolled back at a community college in my late twenties. By this time, I had another son, and the imposter syndrome had a hard hold on me. Once again, I struggled to balance work and school. However, I knew my education was my only option to break the poverty cycle that plagued my kids and me.
Through hard work, mentorship, scholarships, grants, financial and child care assistance programs, I began to excel in community college. I became fascinated with science and health and was recommended to be a biology tutor. Most importantly, I earned two Associate Degrees and transferred to a four year for my Bachelor of Science Degree in Kinesiology.
Excelling in school came with some sacrifice. I was not able to work full-time, which meant less income, and I did not see my children as much as I did before. Although I was happy, because for once I felt I was on the right track, the greatest challenge of all began to haunt me—the guilt of being an absent mother.
It took some adjusting, but I made some changes and created a good schedule. On the days when the kids were at school, I was also able to become more involved with my community. I volunteered at a local hospital, where I served as a Spanish medical interpreter. My volunteer experience demonstrated to me the vast health disparities that exist in my community and the lack of cultural competency from many healthcare providers. This internship gave me clarity in understanding I was not only meant to work in research as I once desired, but that I was meant to be a clinician that serves patients face-to-face and made a daily impact in their lives. After graduating with my B.S. in May 2019, I enrolled in a Master of Public Health program and I’m set to graduate in December 2020. I aspire to continue to PA school and become a healthcare leader that will be an advocate for underserved patients.
I never thought science or healthcare was for me. A distant dream meant only for those who are well educated and with money. I let the failures of my past and society norms dictate for far too long what I was able to do, but I am no longer willing to conform. It wasn’t until I joined a Hispanic serving institution and met peers, professors, and counselors that I could identify with, that I began to believe in my intelligence and pursue my passions. I became an empowered Latina.
My culture taught me to be empathetic, kind, and, most of all, powerful. My upbringing and journey has allowed me to be confident of who I am and speak my mind when I think something is unfair. I look forward to using my current and future education and experiences to serve in community health clinics and continue to advocate for social justice and for healthcare protocols that will reduce the racial/ethnic health disparities in all minority communities.
Although my passion is research and healthcare, my personal agenda is to inspire others to follow their dreams. Do not ever limit your potential because you think you were dealt a bad hand. The road may seem daunting (it may be), but there is always support available. Do not do it on your own; we are stronger in numbers. Reach out to other mentors, peers, professors, and professionals who you may identify with or who may be willing to help. Someone will always point you in the right direction or find a resource for you to utilize towards your success.
Now that I am in my thirties, there are four things I wish I knew earlier: First, you are never too old to go after what you want, even if the odds seem stacked against you. Second, do not let the cost of education limit your choices; there is always a way and many available resources! Third, your culture and past battles make you unique and give you power. They do not weaken you; they strengthen you! Finally, remember that sometimes your family and friends may not understand your journey, especially if raised in a different country. They will always love you, but sometimes you just have to do you!