Cynthia N. Ramirez, a 2013 program participant at Duke University. In 2015, she graduated from the University of Southern California with a B.S. in health promotion and disease prevention. In 2016, she went on to pursue an MPH in epidemiology and biostatistics. Today, she is a doctoral student in the Health Behavior Research PhD program at Keck School of Medicine of USC.

What led to your interest in a health profession?

I first became interested in health and health care as a teenager when a loved one was diagnosed with cancer and was refused treatment by their diagnosing hospital due to lack of insurance. The experience exposed me to the various health inequities marginalized individuals face every day and led to my interest in informing and developing solutions to these inequalities through science and medicine.

Who or what inspired you?

The brave and selfless individuals, scientists, and providers who go the extra mile to help marginalized individuals overcome inequities in their health and health care.

What obstacles did you overcome in your educational or career journey?

I’ve been told repeatedly that I should be more conservative in my educational and career pursuits – whether it’s due to my neurodevelopmental disorder or because I “should be spending [my] time pursing a more family friendly career” – someone has always had an opinion. I’m grateful to have learned, through exposure to programs like SMDEP, that I’m not alone in my experiences. I’ve learned that regardless of what anyone says, the most important opinion about my education and career is my own.

What makes your story unique?

I’m really proud of the fact that I’m a first-generation student with a neurodevelopmental disorder – I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was nine. During a high school advising appointment, I was handed pamphlets to community colleges and told I shouldn’t apply to four-year-universities because my brain wasn’t built for it. Five years later I graduated with bachelors and master’s degrees from the University of Southern California. I share this part of my story in hopes of validating others’ unique journeys and ending mental health stigmas.

What surprised you the most about professional school?

I live in Los Angeles, California, where there is a large Spanish speaking population, and am constantly surprised at how rare it is to find providers and scientists who speak fluent Spanish. I’d love to change that.

If you had the opportunity to talk to a health professional student, what you tell him/her?

Be a life-long learner: Learn about as many cultures and life experiences as possible. Ask tough questions. As health professionals we are serving individuals for a living and in order to do so respectfully and effectively I believe it is incredibly important to be as culturally sensitive, competent, and aware as possible.

Do you remember your first day of graduate studies? What memory stands out the most?

I remember looking around and feeling a wave of nerves go through my body. I wanted so badly to be successful in my studies and maximize my experience. I knew I only had a short amount of time in school. I was one hundred percent dedicated to making it count. Shortly afterwards, my nerves changed to feelings of excitement.

Updated: June 2020