“My name is Melissa Gonzalez. I am 5 years old. I like to play hide and go seek. I don’t like to eat duck. When I grow up, I want to be a doctor.”
That is what I included in my “about the author” page for a preschool assignment. Twenty years later, I am about to begin my second year of medical school and on my way to making that dream a reality.
As a young girl, I heard my parents tell me stories about the lack of accessible healthcare in their rural Mexican hometowns. As immigrants to this country, they also struggled to navigate the healthcare system, with language being one of the biggest barriers. Hearing this as a child, my first thought was to become a doctor and go back to their hometowns to help everyone in need. It seemed so easy. I was naive to the many obstacles I would eventually face as the only daughter of two immigrants, living in a mixed status household, and the first in my family to go to college.
Through all of my schooling growing up, I was able to succeed on my own without any outside help. As a child, I grew accustomed to the fact that my parents would not be able to help me with my homework assignments. I graduated my public high school at the top of my class and figured college would be no different.
It was the end of my first semester at Georgetown University when I stepped into the dean’s office. I was not only nervous because going to a professor or faculty’s office intimidated me, but also because I knew I would not be hearing good news. I had just finished my first semester of college - I had taken 20 credits. I also had just received the first "C" and "D" in my life. The dean told me my lifelong dream of becoming a physician was over. I was crushed.
The next semester I contemplated other careers outside of medicine and never felt satisfied. I thought about teaching, law, and art history. I knew I enjoyed studying human behavior so I changed my major to psychology. My studio art and art history classes were some of my favorite and I decided to minor in art. Although these classes were interesting, I still felt like I was missing something. While studying on campus, I would see the medical students walk by to get their coffee in their scrubs or white coats. I longed to be in their shoes.
I finished my second semester of college with straight A’s - a 180 degree turn on what my previous semester had looked like. This time around, meeting with my dean was not so scary. She congratulated me on my success and further emphasized that medicine was not for me given how much better I performed in my non-science classes. I believed her. Surely a dean with no medical background but years of academic advising knew what she was talking about, right? I was so wrong.
During my summer break, I moved back to California to spend time with my parents after a very difficult first year. While back in my hometown, I also spent a lot of time volunteering at my local free clinic. I had been volunteering there for six years and it felt like my second home. Shadowing the physicians, assisting with minor procedures, and preparing patients to be seen brought me back to the times where medicine was my dream. It was especially clear when I would stand in the room interpreting for Spanish-speaking patients witnessing how cultural and linguistic nuances were lost in conversation with physicians. It was during this break where I was surrounded by my parents who believed in me, friends who have cheered me on, and patients who thanked me for helping them understand, that I saw my true potential. I knew I would have to give medicine one more try.
A few years later, I graduated from Georgetown in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in art. I had improved my grades, learned to ask for help, and became a little less intimated by professor office hours. In my two gap years, I prepared for the MCAT, worked two part-time jobs, and continued to volunteer at the free clinic. I knew my low GPA from college would need to be balanced by a good MCAT score. I felt the pressure. I applied to medical school praying that a school would see me for more than my numbers. In the end, several schools saw my potential and I was lucky enough to be accepted to my top ranked medical school with a scholarship.
Now, I am about to start my second-year medical student after completing my first year during a pandemic. Despite the rigor and intensity of (virtual) medical school, I pushed through by reminding myself of how far I have come and how far my parents came to get me here. I feel humbled and recognize the privilege I have to be learning how to heal. After so many years of self-doubt exacerbated by advisors and unsupportive faculty, I made it. I am thankful to those who guided and mentored me along the way. I am especially thankful to my wonderful parents whose stories of home inspired me 20 years ago to be on this journey.
After being on the receiving end of so much support and guidance, it is my goal to pay it forward. I started my Instagram page (@browngirl_whitecoat) during my medical school application cycle because I never saw physicians or medical students who looked like me. I wanted to show that we are more than just our grades, MCAT scores, hours of volunteering, etc. I aim to encourage all premeds, especially those systematically marginalized and excluded in medicine, that we are needed in this field. It is possible, no matter how many people say otherwise. ¡Si se puede!