Meet PGY-1: Danhely Cruz-Vasquez
My name is Danhely Cruz-Vasquez. I was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, but have lived in Georgia since I crossed the border, when I was four years old. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a physician. I do know that everything that I have accomplished is thanks to my parents who instilled work ethic in me and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. My dad came to the states when he was 16, worked in anything and everything he could, and my mother followed my dad here to keep our family together. They now own a successful business.
I started working as a cashier at 13 because I knew medical school was expensive and wanted to make my dreams come true like my parents. When my parents opened their business, I started waitressing at 17. I did great in school, did extracurriculars, worked, and had just been accepted to the University of Georgia. I was killing it and going to continue killing it at UGA. Or so I thought. The next four years were filled with self-doubt, imposter syndrome, studying, and trying to find myself in an ocean of people I felt I had nothing in common with. I didn’t have parents or siblings who went to college and could guide me in classes. I learned I was “high school smart” after failing my first chemistry exam and that I was not “college smart.” Was I even medical school smart? Slowly, I was able to knock out my requirements for medical school and I thought, “I’ll make it eventually.” Then the MCAT hit. Again and again. I lost track of how many courses (Kaplan, Examkrackers) and tests I took and still could not get that perfect score. I started having anxiety attacks and I didn’t know how to handle them. I tried telling my parents but instead of advice, I would hear things such as “El estres no existe. Es imaginario.” I felt even more anxious - my biggest rocks didn’t understand how much I was struggling. I took a year off, got certified as a medical assistant, and kept waitressing to save for the future I hoped I would one day have. I finally did what at the time was my least desirable option: Caribbean Medical School.
During my first year at UGA we had a premed lecture where the speaker said “Caribbean medical schools are not options and if you chose one, it better be a top 4, otherwise it’s not worth it, you’ll never match.” Somehow though, after so many failures, I chose to apply to a non “top 4” Caribbean medical school and got in! Unsurprisingly, I was struggling there as well. I had severe test anxiety before every exam. I was lucky that I found support in a few staff members and they pushed me to keep trying. A classmate once asked “Why do you stress so much, it’s just a test. You can retake it. As long as you keep trying, you’ll make it.” I’d told myself that multiple times but for some reason, this time it clicked and I miraculously started passing my exams! By the time I took Step 1, my test anxiety went from a 12/10 to a 5/10. I just kept telling myself “it’s just a test.” I passed Step 1, did well in clinicals, passed Step 2 during the pandemic, and then the biggest hurdle… The MATCH.
The imposter syndrome hit again. ERAS, tokens, ECFMG, so many things that I’d never even heard of. I’d stay up googling “how to match” because even though I knew I had to MATCH I didn’t even really understand what it meant. I thought of how there were so many students with better scores, better volunteer experiences, and better evaluations. In my mind, there was no way that someone like me would ever match. But I still applied - I put my best foot forward. My personal statement was what would give me a chance. I shared with programs how waitressing helped me find my voice and taught me how to communicate with customers, even the angry ones. I told them how being 1 of 4 latinos in my high school impacted me and how when I shadowed a doctor in my hometown, I cringed when they had a Spanish speaking patient because it was all mumbles and nods until I stepped in. I felt great being able to help a patient and it felt incredible when the patient thanked me for stepping in. I told them of my love for my culture, my family, and medicine. I hit submit and waited. Programs wanted me! They didn’t care that I had a gap year, that I failed and had to retake classes, that I failed the MCAT, or that I went to a Caribbean medical school. To add to my surprise, more than one program wanted to interview me.
March 15th , 2021: the happiest day of my life. I matched and I didn’t care where, I MATCHED! On March 19th, 2021, I learned where I matched - my #1 choice: Piedmont Athens Regional.
I’m happy to say that I’m almost a month into my residency and I love it. Residency is tough and I expect no less but I’ve already accomplished so much that I know I can do this. But the imposter syndrome is still very real. I still compare myself to others, interns who know so much and present perfectly and have perfect notes and are so well spoken. Even then, I know I was chosen. I’ll continue learning to navigate these feelings but knowing that I can learn and WILL learn. Soon you’ll find me caring for patients in English AND in Spanish. You’ll see me laughing with my patients and JAJAJA’ing with my Spanish speaking patients. And I’m sure occasionally you’ll see me waitressing and cleaning tables. Anything is possible. In the famous words of Chicharito, “Imaginémonos cosas chingonas.”