“You want to be a surgeon?!” People are always surprised. As a young child, I always knew that I want to make a difference in the world and that I genuinely care about others. I want to be a surgeon because I had many positive experiences with surgeons growing up. In first grade I had my tonsils removed and I still remember how I was comforted by the surgeon, prior and post-surgery. As I was being wheeled down to the operating room, I was far from scared. I loved the atmosphere and the hospital ambience. Then, I was involved in my grandparents’ health, by fixing their daily medication, going to doctor appointments, and even being transported with my Grandpa in the ambulance after he suffered a minor heart attack. These experiences made me appreciate the different types of medicine and those who work in the medical field. I accompanied many family members as they underwent procedures and surgeries, which further enhanced my passion to pursue a medical career. By high school I was 100% certain that I wanted pursue a career in medicine.
In college, I shadowed a general surgeon and a cardiothoracic surgeon. I immediately felt at home when I entered the O.R. I was like a little kid in a candy store, fascinated by all of the equipment and the procedures themselves. One of the memorable experiences that I had while shadowing was watching open heart surgery performed on a 5-year-old girl. Seeing the heart pump and knowing that the surgeon had the techniques, skills and power to help save a child’s life resonated with me. I was always told by health professionals that a surgeon does not have the same relationship that a nurse or other doctors have with their patients, yet I saw the opposite. Their relationship was strong and the surgeons genuinely cared about each of their patients, always wanting the very best for them. After both of these shadowing experiences I was even more positive that I want to become a surgeon; I want to be able to fix organs, help patients’ overall health, and know that I am able to help someone live a longer, healthier life.
Even with all my experiences and certainty, during my freshman year of college, my pre-med advisor was extremely discouraging about my choice to follow the pre-med track. He said, “I think this is a bad decision for you because only one pre-medical student from Santa Clara has ended up in medical school,” he said. I know being accepted to medical school is tough, so I wanted to be encouraged to focus on what I love, instead of being compared to others and pressured in another direction. I was frustrated because I felt he did not see my true passion and valid interest in the art and science of medicine. It disappointed me that he did not know how important becoming a surgeon was to me.
Talking to my major advisor seemed to be a little easier. She was excited that I wanted to have a career in medicine, yet I felt she allowed her own experiences to bias her advice on what type of medical career I should have. She herself had tried to pursue a career in medicine and even took the MCAT, but never fully explained to me her reasons for not going into medicine. She tried to steer me toward a career in Public Health administration and other similar jobs in that area. These experiences made me question if there is still a bias against women entering medicine, especially specialties like surgery.
As my freshman year came to end, I decided to seek out another advisor in my major and I am truly happy that I did. My current advisor is amazingly supportive; she is one of the most helpful people on campus. She is very excited that I am not too intimidated to pursue my dreams. I know that the road leading to medical school is going to be difficult, but my dreams are stronger than any obstacle that can come my way. My advisor’s encouragement and support makes all the difference. As a sophomore, I learned that there may be people along the way who may try to influence or change your goals. Most will be well-meaning and think that they are coming from a place of support or help. In reality, we are the only ones who know ourselves best. Sure, we can listen to advice from our family and close friends whom we trust, but we must decide ourselves what we want to do in our futures, what is best for us, and what will ultimately make us happy.
Walking around campus and I am reminded that our world will always be filled with both positive and negative people and influences. I see people who continue in a particular major or career track even though they are not passionate about it, but I also see people who continue to pursue their dreams even when others say they are wasting their time. As the next generation of college graduates, and a first generation college student myself, we must prove to ourselves that those people who do not believe in us are wrong. We can change the world and make it a better place to live and carry out our dreams.
About Breana Várgas:
Breana is a recent graduate of Santa Clara University in the heart of Silicon Valley, California. Currently, she is in the process of earning an MPH degree. She is a Thyroid disease patient and advocate and started a non-profit support group along with her sister, that helps promote thyroid disease and thyroid cancer awareness, called “TalkThyroid.” She is also a Social Media Ambassador for the American Heart Association. Lastly, Breana is very involved in her local Portuguese community, including performing in a cultural Carnaval group (Portuguese traditional musical theater and dance since the age of 3). She is very passionate about medicine and even named her dog Surgeon! Follow him @surgeonthelittleman and @breanamariev on Instagram!