Alexis Aleman and Irvin Garcia

Pictured: Alexis Aleman and Irvin Garcia, second-year students at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, are known online as @FoosInMedicine. (Photo by Nick Carranza/UCLA Health)

When Irvin Garcia received his white coat as a first-year student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, he posted a photo on social media so his friends and family could share in his proud moment.

He didn’t expect to hear from scores of strangers saying things like, “I’ve never seen a Latino medical student ever in my life. This is so cool,” he says.

It made Garcia realize how important visibility and representation can be — a notion he shared recently with a gathering of Latino medical and dental students.

“Just your existence here, in these spots, is super powerful,” he told them. “We don’t even think about it, but literally just sharing that we’re medical students on social media, people just see that and reach out.”

It was that moment — and his friendship with classmate Alexis Aleman — that led to the birth of @foosinmedicine, an Instagram profile where the two men share their experiences as first-generation Latino medical students. The page has already garnered more than 58,000 followers.

Known on social media as @foosinmedicine, Alexis Aleman and Irvin Garcia are blazing a new trail. (Photo by Nick Carranza/UCLA Health)

“I think we both didn’t expect this kind of impact,” says Aleman, adding that he “wasn’t really a huge social media person” before they launched the account in 2022.

“But after that conversation, I realized how much it would have meant to me if I would have seen someone from South Central L.A. doing this,” says Aleman, who grew up in the neighborhood. “And if I would have seen that, that would have inspired me so much more to (think), ‘Oh, I could actually do it then. Someone is doing it.’”

Dreams of becoming a doctor

Aleman and Garcia aren’t just the first in their families to go to medical school, they’re the first to go to college.

Garcia was born in Mexico and came to the United States as a child with his parents. Seeing the challenges people faced in his immigrant community of Shelton, Wash., inspired him to want to help. He was still in high school when he declared his dream of becoming a doctor.

“As I grew up, I noticed a bunch of health disparities that we were going through, and I understood that all that was because of our immigrant status,” says Garcia, 26. “So, since I was about 15, I was like, ‘I want to be a doctor.’ I didn’t even know what that meant. … No one in my family has a high school education.”

He worked hard in high school and through undergraduate studies in molecular biology. Still, he sometimes wondered if he’d set an unattainable goal.

“I do feel like I’m really determined, but I’ve had a lot of times where I’ve really doubted myself, where I’m like, ‘This is so dumb. It’s pretty much impossible for me to go to med school and I should be helping my family out,’” he says.

To keep himself motivated, he wrote down all the reasons he was pursuing this dream. He posted photos of his family on his computer and reflected on what their life was like as migrant field workers.

“I would think about how hard that was,” Garcia says. ”I’d think about how much they’d sacrificed for me — I’m not going to give up.”

His parents didn’t understand what he was endeavoring to do, Garcia says, until they saw him on Telemundo, the national Spanish-language television network, where he and Aleman were featured for their inspirational online profile.

“I feel like that’s when they were like, ‘Oh, wow, this is a huge deal.”

Blazing a new trail

Aleman had to dig deep, too, to follow a path he’d seen no examples of.

“Growing up in South Central, I didn’t know anybody that went to college,” he says.

He wanted to try it and earned good enough grades in high school to get free tuition to California State University, Northridge. He says his uncles pressured him, though, to skip college and get a job to help the family.

“They wanted me to start working right after high school,” says Aleman, 26. “My dad was in jail a lot when I was growing up, so my family knew that my mom didn’t really have that support.”

Aleman decided to both work and go to school, with plans to study nursing. When a counselor at Cal State Northridge suggested he consider a pre-med study track, Aleman decided to go for it, which ignited something inside him. He was still working full time to help his mom and his brothers, but he saw that his academic path was inspiring his friends from the neighborhood, which motivated him further.

“Once I was pre-med, I told myself: ‘I can do this. I can be a doctor, despite everything else around me,’” Aleman says. “I’m so glad I thought that way, because I just take it semester by semester and get good grades.”

Sharing the journey

On their @foosinmedicine account, Garcia and Aleman share glimpses of what life is like for minority medical students — not just the challenging studies, rotations and long hours, but the internal doubts and external naysayers they face on the way.

One video, set to corrido music, shows Aleman practicing in the hospital as quotes pepper the screen: “Are you even smart enough?” “Isn’t it going to take 30 years to become a doctor?” “It’s impossible, you should look into something else.”

Alexis Aleman and Irvin Garcia were the first in their families to go to college and are dedicated to becoming the first doctors, as well. (Photo by Nick Carranza/UCLA Health)

“Don’t let the negativity stop you guys!” the caption reads. “We’re going to continue having all these obstacles in front of us but we can’t let them stop us. Keep believing. It takes time, but might as well spend our time working towards what we aspire to be.”

Among the dozens of viewer comments are words of praise and encouragement and stories from other Latino medical professionals.

“Born and raised in the city of Compton and heard all those negative vibes,” wrote one user. “Now in Iowa Veterinary School soon to become Dr. Salgado. Si se puede.”

In another video, also set to Mexican music, Garcia films a day in his life as a student on surgery rotations — waking up at 3:30 am to study a bit before heading to the hospital; arriving at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center before sunrise to do rounds with patients; scrubbing in to observe in various operating rooms; hitting the gym after a long day; and studying again at home.

Like the duo’s other posts, this one also has dozens of supportive comments. One with multiple hand-clap emojis reads, “Keep doing what you do! You are inspiring many Latinos! I’m hoping to get accepted to the UCLA program!”

Other posts show Garcia and Aleman in their scrubs or white coats, in classes or in the hospital. In some, they offer direct advice to aspiring students about how to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or ace medical-school interviews. In others, they feature Latino classmates talking about their studies and where their families are from.

Garcia chose the account’s name — @foosinmedicine — because he thought it was funny. “Foo” is a slang word “commonly used by the Hispanic community to identify a friend or homie,” according to one of the duo’s posts.

“We say it to each other and everything,” Garcia says.

Alejandra Casillas, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine, says Garcia and Aleman are advocating for Latinos in medicine in a powerful way that reaches far beyond UCLA.

“I think they’re doing such an incredible service to the field of medicine, to our school of medicine, showing the community at large in Los Angeles and across the nation what a doctor should look like and that a doctor can come from all walks of life and all backgrounds,” Dr. Casillas says. “Being Latino or being working class – all these intersectionalities where, traditionally, academia has not been a place for those identities, and they are embodying so many of those identities at once and speaking to those communities all at once.”

The account keeps growing, finding hundreds of new followers a day. Garcia and Aleman are now regularly invited to appear on podcasts and speak at high schools, community colleges and universities.

With their second-year medical studies underway, however, they’re too busy to accept many invitations. Even posting on Instagram regularly can be a challenge, but they try not to overthink it.

“We’re not trying to create this image of what we want it to look like,” Garcia says. “We’re just documenting our story.”

“We just want to show what we’re doing and what we’ve done and we’ll see what happens,” adds Aleman. “Honestly, it’s been far beyond what we ever thought it would be.”

They love seeing how many people have connected to the page, even if they can’t respond to all the messages.

“It’s a lot, and it’s just me and him. Right now, we’re on our rotations, so we’ve got a lot on our plate,” Garcia says. “So it is very difficult, but it’s awesome to see all the love and support and the people that are being inspired by us. We didn’t expect that. It’s honestly kind of overwhelming.”

Original Article: "2 first-generation Latino medical students go viral on Instagram"