Lessons Learned: The Importance of Mentorship, Confidence & Planning Ahead - Carmen Estrada

Tu Puedes. You CAN. The phrase that reminds many of us, Latinx students, that the current hurdle we are facing will be overcome. Choosing to pursue a career as a doctor, when your parents only attended elementary school and you have no one in your circle to ask for help, is terrifying. I know that right now, as a middle school or high schooler, it seems like a dream that can’t be achieved! I felt that way too. But TODAY I am a 3rd year medical student at one of my dream schools and in 2 years I will be Dr. Estrada. It honestly gives me chills even just typing that. I want to use this space to share a bit about myself, but mostly to give YOU the confidence and tools to be successful as you embark on this journey of becoming Dr. _________. Go ahead, fill in the blank with your beautiful last name. The name that carries the weight of your entire familia. Now that we got you “feeling some type of way,” let’s talk about important skills that you will need to get to the finish line.

"Dr. _________. Go ahead, fill in the blank with your beautiful last name".

#1: Mentorship. This should be the first thing you do. In middle school and high school this could be your favorite teacher, your guidance counselor, or your friend who has family members who went to college. Don’t overlook college-going after school or summer programs. I was part of the San Jose Cal-SOAP program - they helped me apply to college, apply for financial aid, edit my personal statement and even get a job! Some other programs that I know about include MiMentor, iMentor, and SMASH academy. If you aren’t sure what programs exist in your area start by asking your counselors and friends. You can also google something along the lines of “summer programs for high school students at _______ university.” Search at universities close to you or that you hope to attend in the future. Many of these programs offer scholarships!

#2: Confidence. This will come in to play in many ways. Surround yourself with mentors, friends and family that uplift you. Most importantly, build a good relationship with YOURSELF. I know this may sound a bit weird, but this journey will be filled with people doubting your potential. You will probably face advisors, strangers and “friends” giving you negative remarks about how you can’t become a doctor. They will question your intelligence, your work ethic and your capability simply because of the way you look. You need to build “tough skin” and the best way to do this is to LOVE and TRUST YOURSELF. Let me share a couple of things that were said to me, as an example.

  • “I didn’t know Mexicans could be that smart”

  • “I’ve known many students smarter than you who couldn’t get into medical school -- there’s no way you are getting in”

Ouch, right? The only way I was able to move past these comments, was through constant reminders to myself that I WAS CAPABLE. Positive affirmations got me through sad days where I went home crying because my advisor told me I would fail if I switched my major to biology and refused to sign my change of major until I “accepted” his warning. No matter what these people tell you, they will be softened by the shield you created for yourself. Some of my favorite phrases to repeat as I walked into a test or an interview were, “I AM COMPETENT, I DESERVE THIS, I AM OVERPREPARED, I AM SMART.” Those were the words that I chose to allow into my mind long term. Words have the ability to empower us if we choose them wisely. Deflect the words that do not serve you well and don’t let ANYBODY negatively affect your worth.

"Most importantly, build a good relationship with YOURSELF. You need to build “tough skin” and the best way to do this is to LOVE and TRUST YOURSELF".

#3: Planning. Start asking questions EARLY. I know that I was super lost when it came to applying for college. I had no idea where to even start. Don’t wait until the week before applications are due to start meeting with your counselor because there will be a long line! You don’t want to miss out on college, just because you couldn’t get an appointment in time. And we all know how scarce counselors are in schools! Attend any college-going events that your school puts on, so that you can network and start getting familiar with the process. Keep a notebook with everything that you learn; I titled mine COLLEGE. If you are a junior and you hear the counselors say, “Seniors don’t forget to submit your FAFSA application by March 2nd so you can get money for college.” WRITE THAT DATE IN YOUR NOTEBOOK! Even though it may not apply to you now, chances are you will have that question next year.

"Start asking questions EARLY. Attend any college-going events that your school puts on, so that you can network and start getting familiar with the process".

#4: Study Skills. I know how hard it can be to focus on school at such a young age. But especially in high school, try to learn as much as you can about how to study. If they offer tutoring after school and you are struggling with a class, PLEASE ATTEND! Take practice tests like the PSAT seriously, because that is the only chance you get to mess up before it counts for college applications. Talk to friends who are doing well in class and ask them how they study. You can still have tons of fun, while getting good grades! I played sports every season (badminton, volleyball, soccer), hung out with friends on weekends, and still managed to do my HW because I got it out of the way early. Why keep worrying about that assignment that is due in a week, if you can just get it done now and forget about? Less stress in the long run and it prepares you for college where it counts even more!

"Talk to friends who are doing well in class and ask them how they study. You can still have tons of fun, while getting good grades!"

I want to close off by reminding you that YOU CAN DO THIS. Even if no one in your family went to college before you, even if you have to work while in college, even if you start at community college, even if it takes a while… Your journey will not look exactly like anybody else’s around you because you are uniquely awesome. It is okay to be scared, but don’t go at it alone, because you don’t have to! Keep pushing forward and go find the mentors that you need to succeed as a future doctor/a.

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