Mr. Matthew R. Viramontes, is a 2014 participant of the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He graduated from the University of California Riverside with a degree in Anthropology in 2016 and later went on to completing a pre-medical post baccalaureate program at UCLA in 2017. He conducted medical research as the Lead Clinical Researcher for the UCLA Department of Surgery Liver Transplant from 2015 – 2019 thanks to SMDEP. Today, he is in his first year of podiatric medical school at Western University of Health Sciences College of Podiatric Medicine and planning to complete a podiatric surgical residency when he graduates.

What led to your interest in a health profession?

I first became interested in the medical field in high school where I witnessed the numerous health disparities my family encountered in the healthcare system. My family members immigrated from Mexico and were not afforded the opportunity of a higher education. During my family’s medical appointments, I witnessed socioeconomic barriers that led to many problems between the healthcare provider and the patient. Witnessing this, I aspired to become a future physician who could address these health disparities and create a meaningful and trustworthy relationship with my patients and the community.

Who or what inspired you?

The stories of my grandparents immigrating from Mexico to the United States for a better life inspired me to follow my dream. My family has always embodied the meanings of hard work, respect, and perseverance.

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

As a first-generation Latino college student, I faced many struggles navigating the pre-med pathway to medical school. During my undergraduate years, advisors told me to forget about the sciences as this was an unachievable dream. It was only until I applied to the SMDEP program at UCLA and was accepted for me to understand how to utilize resources, how to study effectively, how to find a mentor, and discover different fields and routes to becoming a physician. It was during this innovative program where I met medical students, administrators, and physicians who looked like me and believed in my dreams of becoming a physician one day. This program gave me the roadmap and tools to successfully find the right pre-medical post baccalaureate program and allowed me to find a mentor who I conducted medical research with for five years. As a first-generation college student, it was important to find a mentor who believed in and motivated me to reach for the stars and aspire to be the best doctor I could be.

What makes your story unique?

What makes my story unique is the route in which I chose to become a physician. Many pre-med students are under the impression that there are only two degrees that lead to becoming a physician when there are three. Most pre-med students choose to pursue an MD or DO for medical school not knowing of the third route Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM). I uniquely choose the Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) route to becoming a physician and it has made all the difference. After being accepted to MD programs outside of the United States, I researched podiatric medicine and discovered it was the perfect field for me. This field allows you to become a physician and surgeon who is a specialist in diagnosing and treating conditions affecting the foot, ankle, and other related structures of the leg. This field of medicine encompasses orthopedics, primary care, wound care, sports medicine, surgery and much more! I highly recommend any pre-med students interested in surgery or primary care to research the field of Podiatric Medicine!

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 a health profession student, I would tell them to never listen to anyone if they say you can’t do something or if your dream is too big. I was told that during my undergraduate years and I did not listen to that advisor. The route to becoming a physician is not an easy one by any means, but with mentorship, perseverance, and faith in yourself, anything is possible! Never give up on your dreams and know that everyone has their unique pathway towards medicine.

Posted: August 2020