Persevering into Med School with Good Friends, Great Mentors, and the Love of Familia - Melissa Gonz

When people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was, “doctor.” As a five year old, I was inspired by the stories my parents told me about their rural hometowns in Mexico. I was determined to go there as a doctor to help everyone in need. Yet, the journey to medical school has not been the easiest. As a first-generation citizen and student, I often faced the challenges associated with living in a mixed status household where Spanish was the predominant language. My parents, like many others, immigrated to this country thirty years ago in search of better work opportunities. After having me, their only child, they were determined for me to have a better life than they did. They knew this would only be possible if they encouraged me to do well in school and receive a college degree. This is why it is important to have dreams. Those dreams push us to work hard when times are tough and they give us a purpose in life. And with the support of mentors, family, and friends - anything is possible.

As a young student, excelling in school was my priority. I became pretty independent in my learning because I could not turn to my parents for help, especially in my English and math classes. When I started high school, I was excited at the prospect of taking all of the Advanced Placement (AP), college prep, and honors classes to better prepare myself for college. A couple of months into high school, I began to be bullied by girls who thought my Key Club shirt was a little nerdy. It hurt to be made fun of by classmates I would be with for the next four years. Luckily, I found a community in my teammates. All four years of high school, I was a runner on the cross country and track teams. This experience gave me so much, but most importantly gave me the friendships that helped me throughout school. We bonded on eleven-mile mountainous runs in 100-degree weather. When an injury inhibited my training, I learned how to cope with the disappointment I felt when I was not performing my best.

I learned how to stay positive and resilient when things were not going my way. My senior year, I was team captain, the same year our team went on to win the California State Championship in cross country. I was also in the orchestra at my high school. Although it was a small orchestra, I was proud of my first chair viola position. Playing music is very therapeutic and was an outlet for me when my school work was becoming overwhelming. Especially meaningful was receiving the Director's Award my senior year, an award given to one student from all of the orchestra and band classes that the music director deems a valuable member of the music department. I excelled in my classes and studied hard to get straight A's. I graduated high school with a 4.31 GPA with my family by my side. It was a really proud moment for my parents to tell friends, family, and coworkers that their only daughter graduated and would be the first in our family attending college.

When it came to applying to college, it was up to me to figure it out. Georgetown University was my dream school and I knew my chances would be low, especially with my below average SAT score. But on April 1st, 2010 I got a small letter in the mail all the way from Washington, DC, which changed my life forever. Starting college across the country from my parents in California was challenging. I did not have any family members to ask for guidance. I had to figure out how to choose my classes and learn how to approach to professors to ask questions about difficult concepts. Dreams come true, but the hard work continues.

I received my first F on an exam and momentarliy lost hope of becoming a doctor. People told me to choose a different career because medicine would be too hard for me. Thankfully, I did not listen to them. I was used to doing well in school and not used to asking for help. However, learning to ask for help was instrumental in my journey to improving my grades and overall progress in college. I reached out to the office of diversity and inclusion and was paired with upperclassmen who were also pursuing a premed path. They guided me and gave me tips I needed to be successful. I also made sure to balance my academics with activities that allowed me to destress. I joined the school chapel choir and went on long runs in the National Monuments. I had to learn about the importance of not losing sight of my dreams when life and school became difficult. Mentors are extremely helpful because they have walked the path that we are looking to walk. If you do not have mentors, reach out to students, professors, or other faculty that may help you find one. There is always be someone willing to help you.

I went on to major in psychology and minor in art at Georgetown University. I graduated in 2018 with my parents and family beside me. After college, I began the process of studying for the MCAT, an exam required to apply to medical school. I spent three months studying everyday to do well. I found part-time work for some minor income and to save up to apply to med school. Know that medical school applications can be expensive, but there are programs that help pay! The application process can take several months, but it is worth the effort and wait. After my submission, I started receiving interview invitations. My first medical school acceptance was from my dream school: the University of Southern California (USC) Keck School of Medicine. The moment I received the acceptance call, I called my father and mother to let them know the good news. We cried. We jumped for joy. My hard work and their sacrifices had been worth it.

In just a few months I will be starting medical school at USC Keck. I am really excited to have the opportunity to care for the predominantly Latino population that USC serves. As a daughter of two Mexican immigrants, I have witnessed firsthand the impact of being underinsured or uninsured and the impact of not having doctors that look like you or sound like you. I want to be a doctor that cares for everyone with dignity, respect, and cultural competence. I know that training at USC will give me this opportunity.

Over the years, I have learned two valuable lessons that have helped me get to where I am today. The first being that high school is a very important time to prepare for college. Having the right friends is so important. There are so many unnecessary distractions around us, but good friends are like a support system that push you forward. Secondly, I’ve also come to realize how important it is to have mentors. Do not be afraid to reach out or email someone in your desired career path or someone you find motivational to ask for guidance. Many times, they will be more than willing to help! And the last lesson that has meant so much to me is being able advocate for yourself. This means asking for help, seeking new perspectives, and finding a way to reach for your goals when there are doubts in your mind and heart. Believing in yourself during easy times is effortless, but you must learn to believe in yourself during hard times as well. I was told many times that I would not be able to get into medical school. Instead of dwelling on the “no”, I focused on my strengths and how to use them to improve and progress. For every person that says “no”, there will be many more that will support you and say “yes”. Stay positive and have a strong support circle around you, whether that be good friends or familia.

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