Getting started toward a career in the medical professions is a long road, and that's especially true if one is the first in his or her family to pursue higher education. Edgar Corona, a second-year student in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, is on that road.
Corona grew up in Baldwin Park, Calif., the youngest of six children in a close-knit, working-class family. "As a low-income Latino community, Baldwin Park is vibrant and a great place to grow up," he says. "But it has a lot of challenges: food deserts, widespread childhood obesity and a school system that is put on lockdown fairly often."
Making the most of opportunities
Corona counts himself lucky to have attended a high school focused on student retention and creating a rigorous academic environment — one that included AP classes. He received enthusiastic support, but not specific guidance, at home.
His parents are monolingual Mexican immigrants who didn't go past grade school. "My parents were all about me getting a good education, but they didn't know what that really meant," Corona says. "I found out about many opportunities from my peers in school."
Those peers offered Corona college guidance, too. "I heard about applying to four University of California campuses on a fee waiver, so I did. I got in at all four, but I had no idea what I was doing," he admits. "I thought my undergraduate major could be medicine and I would graduate from college as a doctor. I had no idea what the MCAT was."
Bridging two worlds
It was clear that life in higher education would require some adjustment. "As first-generation college students, we have to learn everything so much quicker than students who are already familiar with the idea of being [in] college," Corona says. "Westwood is about 35 miles and a world apart in demographics and affluence. I felt like I was constantly torn between home and UCLA."
For him, the solution was to bring his parents into his life at UCLA. "My parents are always supportive; they just didn't understand the campus experience," he says. "One day, I took my mom to one of my lecture halls after class. It was just the two of us sitting in this big hall, but it helped her see what my life was like."
Undergraduate life went well for Corona as he majored in biochemistry and minored in Chicano studies. "I looked for experiences I could relate to and found Chicanos/Latinos for Community Medicine, which focuses on the underserved," he says. "I started meeting providers who are what I want to be: a culturally sensitive, linguistically competent physician."
Moving on to medical school
When it came time to apply to medical school, Corona was able to share more of the process with his parents. He was accepted to the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, where he has been chosen for the UCLA PRIME Medical School Program. This five-year dual degree program includes a master's degree and focuses on medical professions related to healthcare delivery, research and policy in underserved communities like his own.
By Darcy Lewis