Mr. Da Silva participated in SMDEP at Duke University in 2012. Today, he is a 3rd year medical student at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
What led to your interest in a health profession?
As a first generation immigrant from Brazil, I was raised by my grandparents while my parents worked. My grandmother who was a missionary nurse for over 30 years told me countless stories about her travels through the Amazon, where she helped indigenous tribes get access to modern healthcare. That is what sparked my interest. I wanted to help the sick just as she did. Later on in high school, my career choice was cemented when I excelled in an AP Biology course and the professor encouraged me to consider medical school. He believed I would make an excellent physician. In college, I shadowed with the internal medicine department at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, FL. I will never forget the first day after rounds when I knew I would go through anything to become a physician.
Who or what inspired you?
The aforementioned life events inspired me but more specifically it was the opportunity of making my career helping those in poor health. Hearing about my grandmother’s interactions with the indigenous Amazonians and all the lives she touched made me think; “What in life can be more satisfying than helping people that way?” Witnessing the condition of the patients admitted to Jackson Memorial, and the dedication that each physician had in providing the highest standard of care motivated me to a point where I knew that I could not let anything stand in my way. My experience in SMDEP at Duke was absolutely integral to my professional development and interest in medicine. The physicians and medical students I worked with not only provided me with a glimpse into medicine they also inspired me.
The ultimate personal inspiration still comes from the death of my grandmother. A diabetic who died of a heart attack when I was only twelve years old. In hindsight, she had obvious and classic symptoms, but my family, having no medical knowledge whatsoever, thought it best she stay home and get some rest instead of heading to the emergency room. I want to be someone who my family and friends can consult in regards to health so that tragedies like my grandmother’s can be avoided.
What obstacles did you overcome in your educational or career journey?
My biggest obstacles were the lack of financial resources, mentorship and guidance, and a lack of self-confidence. As an adolescent Hispanic immigrant, I really did not believe in myself. I never thought that people like me made it to college, graduate school nor held prestigious careers. All of the young adults in my family and friends were either illegal immigrants searching for jobs or working blue-collar jobs. Overcoming that self-doubt took encouragement from my high school teachers who took notice of my potential.
Secondly, during college I did not receive much guidance. I had no one to advise me on how to get into medical school. Ultimately, a few books, online resources and programs such as SHPEP prepared me for the arduous medical school application.
Lastly, coming from a poor family was something that I never thought about until going to a private university. My more affluent classmates attended medical conferences, received professional tutoring, and were able to afford MCAT preparation courses. However, through dedication, university resources and online forums, I was able learn the material as well as, if not better than my peers and find success in applying.
What makes your story unique?
Although my story is not unlike many other successful minorities, coming from a different country and feeling like I am living in two different cultures between my home life and professional life, has made the journey tough. It has been difficult not having anyone in my family I can talk to about medicine or about the hardships I encounter in medical training. Sometimes I feel like an alien in the hospital because I’m so new to it, especially when my peers tell stories about their parents or siblings’ medical training experience and I have no reference of my own. Other times, I feel that way in my personal life when I keep stories to myself because I feel like others will not understand. Despite my background, mentors and friends I have connected with in the past few years, make me feel comfortable and like I belong in medicine.
What surprised you the most about professional school?
What surprised me most is definitely the rigor. Ironically enough that is what everyone warned me about before coming to medical school. It seems that no matter how much it is expected it is a shock to all newcomers. The course load made me feel like I was doing a semester worth in a couple of weeks. I found it difficult to eat, sleep, and interact with family and friends while juggling the responsibilities of medical school.
If you had the opportunity to talk to a health profession student, what would you tell him/her?
If I had the opportunity to talk to someone just entering the medical school, I would be sure to tell him or her how normal it is to feel overwhelmed. I would tell them that it gets better with practice and advise them to develop healthy habits that will come in use over the long years. Ultimately, I would say that all the hard work and sacrifices are worth it and that nothing beats the feeling you get when a patient is genuinely thankful for your part in his/her care.
Do you remember your first day of graduate studies? What memory stands out the most?
The memory that stands out the most is actually of how I felt sitting in the classroom. I felt like I was embarking on a journey of self-discovery and of service to humanity. I finally felt validated as I pictured the countless physicians who once sat in their first class of medical school. I was scared at how little I knew and yet comforted by the fact that all the great doctors once knew as little as I did. Lastly, I felt like this was the first step towards my goal of being an inspiration and role model to other disadvantaged minority students.