I wish I could tell you that it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to become a doctor, or that there was one single moment that made me realize my true calling, but that’s not the case. I always knew that I wanted to work in the medical field, but I didn’t know exactly where I would fit in. It wasn’t until my third year of college that I realized that I wanted to go to medical school.
I started my freshman year of university in Anchorage, AK, lost and confused. I tried hard to convince myself that I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had chosen health sciences as my major (even though I wasn’t completely sure what that was,) and took a light load of classes because I was afraid that I would fail miserably if I took more credits. My goal was to become a physician assistant because I knew that I wanted to work directly with patients. All the while, my close friends were taking the premed path, and even though I claimed that it would be too hard for me, the thought of going to medical school was always in the back of my mind.
As the years went by, I realized that I was unhappy with the career path I’d chosen. Being a physician assistant seemed like a great option, but I realized that I was only taking that path because I was afraid that I was not smart enough for medical school; my true passion was to become a pediatrician. School was also getting difficult. I realized that the university was not a good fit. The state was cutting funding from the university, which left its students with fewer and fewer resources (like research programs). On top of all this, my mental health was deteriorating, which made it more difficult for me to focus in school and caused me to isolate myself from friends and family.
After I sought out help for my mental health things started to look up again. I poured myself into school, studying harder than ever, and looked into transferring out of state. I finished the semester with a GPA of 3.5, and found a school in Colorado that seemed like a perfect fit for me. Ending the semester with an above average GPA also gave me the confidence to reconsider my career goal. I decided that I was capable of going to medical school; I simply needed to believe in myself more and continue to put in the work.
One of the treatments that my therapist recommended to me was volunteering. I decided to volunteer at the local Children’s hospital and in the NICU. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I started, but I quickly realized that volunteering was going to be a great thing for me. In the NICU, my main task was to hold babies as a “cuddle core” volunteer. The nurses would find a baby for me to hold in a comfy reclining chair, and make the room very dim and quiet. For two hours a week I would hold babies who were very sick. By “cuddling” the babies, I was helping them lower stress levels, sleep better, and heal faster.
One of my most memorable moments as a volunteer occurred in the children’s hospital. A nurse asked me to sit with a preteen boy who was fighting leukemia for the second time. As we waited for his family to arrive, he told me all about his life: school, friends, and his close relationship with his younger brother. Hearing his story was very sad, but also inspiring because he had such a positive attitude about everything. It was at this moment that I realized why my therapist had recommended volunteering as a treatment method; although I was putting in time to help others, they were actually helping me. It was eye-opening to see how children were dealing with situations much worse than mine, and were still able to remain happy.
Volunteering at both departments in the hospital and other places in my hometown made me realize that I wanted to do something more with my life. It also allowed me to meet physicians, nurses, and other medical staff who gave me more information about working in the medical field. With this experience, I learned a lot about myself. I saw that by helping others, I would indirectly help myself feel better. I also realized that I wanted to help people by being able to diagnose their problems, find treatments, and discuss prevention methods. At the same time I began volunteering, I ended up changing my major to psychology, because it was a subject that truly interested me and would allow me to assist others.
My dream to become a doctor came from a chain of events that occurred when I chose to better myself. I once questioned my ability to get good grades, and occasionally I will still catch myself doing that. The good thing about medical school, though, is that doctors need to be more than just straight-A students. They need to be professional, compassionate, well-rounded, and be able to ask for help when they need it. I know that the path to becoming a doctor will be a long and difficult one, but all good things take time and hard work.
About Diana Santacruz
Diana Santacruz is a 4th year undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. She is originally from Anchorage, AK and the first in her family to attend university. She recently moved to Broomfield, CO, and transferred to the University of Colorado, Denver. She enjoys volunteering, and is planning on volunteering abroad to countries such as Costa Rica, South Africa, and Colombia. When she isn’t studying, she also enjoys baking, cooking, writing, and spending time with her family. She aspires to become a pediatrician one day.