Rigoberto Perez Hernandez, pictured here with fellow UCLA resident and the Bruin mascots, shares his story of becoming a doctor

Meet Rigoberto Perez Hernandez

Growing up, Rigoberto (Rigo) Perez Hernandez bridged gaps between his Mexican-American family and essential service providers—physicians, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and other first responders. 

Interpreting between them, Rigo ensured his family received help while also learning about the service providers and their work. A future as an emergency medicine physician took root in his mind. 

He could easily imagine being a physician. Visualizing himself becoming a physician proved more challenging. Like many first-generation students, he felt uncertain about navigating higher education and determining his next steps. 

In high school, encouraging mentors and college preparation programs, such as The Phoenix Scholars at Stanford University, helped him find his path. This path eventually led him nearly 3,000 miles east of his hometown—Watsonville, California—to attend Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and become the first person in his family to graduate from college.

After growing up in a majority Latino area, Rigo delighted in meeting people from all backgrounds, cultures, and places. However, he never lost sight of where he came from. 

“I was getting closer to attaining my goal, so I made it my mission to help others achieve their goals as well,” says Rigo, who co-founded the Cornell Science Organization of Latinos (SOL) to advance representation in the sciences. 

After graduating college, Rigo returned to Watsonville and served his local community before taking his next steps. At this point in his medical education, he knew exactly what he needed to do next and also where he wanted to do it.

  • Specialty: Emergency Medicine
  • Matched Residency Program: UCLA Medical Center
  • Fun Facts: 
    • Rigo volunteered with Jovenes SANOS, a Santa Cruz County youth leadership and advocacy program that combats childhood obesity.
    • He played on the Golden State Warriors’ basketball court for a high school basketball game 
    • He learned how to step and stroll during his time with the Latino-based collegiate fraternity at Cornell University, La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Incorporated. 

A Diverse Med-School Community United by a Shared Purpose

Rigo knew the PRIME LA program, a five-year, concurrent/dual degree program at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM), would help him become the kind of doctor he’d always imagined—a well-rounded clinician but also a leader and an advocate. 

Furthermore, his dream program was in Los Angeles. He couldn’t imagine a better place for a future emergency medicine physician to train. Caring for the city’s diverse patient populations, with their range of medical needs, would prepare him to handle practically anything he might encounter as a physician. 

PRIME LA med degree seeking student cohort 12 group photo

“We see patients from all walks of life, not only from the L.A. area but international patients as well,” Rigo says. “Serving so many different populations helped me learn how to be a better physician, and I hope I never stop learning from them and finding ways to better serve them.” 

Rigo’s time at DGSOM surpassed even his high expectations. Before starting medical school, he never imagined he would find and build such a supportive, tight-knit community. 

“I’ve had a family from the very beginning here,” he says. “I felt so welcomed by everyone, from my cohort members to faculty and staff. I feel so supported each and every day that I set foot on this campus.” 

As a first-generation student, Rigo felt especially grateful to have financial support through L.A. Care's Elevating the Safety Net Scholarship Program as well as community support in identifying workable study techniques and networking to find and connect with mentors. 

“You can do anything and everything at UCLA.” 

Rigo could explore and collaborate on any research, community service, clinical interest, or cause he wished. The PRIME LA program, for example, gave him space to explore his interest in health policy and earn a master’s degree from UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health en route to his medical degree. 

Now, after spending five wonderful years with the UCLA community, Rigo feels the connection more powerfully than ever. 

“Everyone is different, but at the same time, we share a commonality: to serve our patients. It has been amazing to share that with my classmates.” 

Rigoberto Perez Hernandez, pictured here with medical school classmates, shares his story of becoming a doctor

Matching Into Residency: Emergency Medicine 

To Rigo, doing emergency medicine clinical rotations in Los Angeles County felt like completing a circle he’d started as a child interpreting between his family and service providers. 

“Instead of interpreting for my family, I was on the physician side, the provider side. I saw patients who looked like my family members,” he says, adding that the experience affirmed his desire to be on the front lines as an emergency physician, serving communities similar to the one he grew up with in Watsonville. 

When the time came to apply to residency programs, Rigo had a strong idea about where he wanted to match. After finishing his steps—sending applications, taking interviews, and making a final ranked program list—he eagerly awaited Match Day, the day med students across the United States learn where they’ll complete their residency training. 

“You come to medical school undifferentiated; you’re interested in everything and curious about everything,” Rigo explains. “Then you decide what specialty you want to go into. Waiting for Match Day, the ultimate question is: where is your specialty training going to happen?” 

On Match Day, Rigo got the answer he’d been hoping for. He matched into emergency medicine at UCLA, his top choice. 

“It’s a privilege to stay here and serve the populations of Los Angeles County.”

Dr. Rigoberto Perez Hernandez 

Rigo considers matching into residency a testament to how far he and his classmates have come toward achieving their dreams. To him, however, graduation carries special significance, and he’s looking forward to experiencing it with his family, his deepest source of motivation and inspiration. 

“Graduation is when they say your name for the first time as Dr. So-and-So,” he says. “I’m going to hear them say, Dr. Rigoberto Perez Hernandez. That’s going to resonate throughout the entire crowd, and my family will be there to hear it. It’s my success and their success.” 

Rigoberto Perez Hernandez, pictured here with his family, shares his story of becoming a doctor

He feels grateful for their constant support thus far and comforted knowing he’ll remain just a short drive away as he continues his medical training at UCLA. 

“To honor them is to complete this process and help others,” Rigo says. 

Considering how far he’s traveled on a path that once seemed so uncertain, Rigo’s thoughts go out to aspiring or new medical students. 

“Don’t give up. If you need help, ask for help,” he says, unable to imagine doing everything without support from his family, classmates, mentors, and pipeline programs. 

“Always remember where you came from, always give back to your community, and always inspire others.”