Written By: Jane Erikson
The Class of 2018 includes three Native American students, two who came to the U.S. from South and Central America, and a Tucson native. At their White Coat Ceremony in August, they heard from Sister Adele O’Sullivan, MD, CSJ, Class of 1984, and 2014 Alumnus of the Year, who has been nationally recognized for her work with homeless patients, starting in 1996 in downtown Phoenix. “That’s where I understood what the privilege of practicing medicine really meant,” she said. “And medicine found me and claimed me for good. And yes, the practice of medicine will find you and change you.”
Following are introductions to six of our outstanding students.
Kirsten Concha-Moore, 25, is a member of the Taos and Jemez Pueblos in northern New Mexico. The first in her family to graduate from college, she holds a degree in molecular, cellular and developmental biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. As an undergraduate, she enrolled in the Four Directions Summer Research Program at Harvard Medical School, an eight-week course for Native American students interested in medicine and biomedical research.
“As a child, my family and I utilized the Indian Health Service clinic," she says. "The IHS doctors inspired me when I was very young to pursue a career in medicine. Now, I look forward to getting involved in American Indian communities.”
Maria Fernandez, 26, is a native of Mexico who grew up in Bonita, California, graduated from Stanford University with a human biology major and modern dance minor, then earned a master’s in public health degree from the University of California, Berkeley.
“My upbringing as a bicultural and bilingual individual in the United States has had a major impact on who I am and what I want to do," she says. "I was blessed to see the world from two completely distinct lenses."
At Stanford and Berkeley, Maria volunteered to teach English to janitors and other low-wage earners. Maria wants to practice family medicine in a medically underserved area in Arizona.
Alejandro Lencinas, 31, is a native of Bolivia, where, he says, “My parents struggled to pay for food and basic necessities, and school supplies were seen as luxuries we could not afford.” In 1998, when Alejandro was 14, his family moved to the U.S. “I studied long hours to recover academically,” he says. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from Northern Arizona University, and a PhD in pharmacology and toxicology from the UA.
Married and the father of 3-year-old Lilia and newborn Santiago, Alejandro wants to remain in Arizona, close to his family, friends and colleagues. He wants to practice medicine and science in an academic institution in Arizona.
Cubby Michael Pierre, 23, was born and raised in Arlee, Montana, on the Flathead Indian Reservation. He is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Growing up on a reservation where health care is in short supply, and an uncle who is an orthopaedic surgeon influenced his desire to become a doctor. He is leaning toward orthopaedic surgery, working in rural Montana with Native Americans and other underserved communities.
Cubby’s high school focused on getting students to graduate, with less emphasis on going to college. “My first year of college was very challenging, but I made it through,” he says, “and now, luckily, I am a medical student.”
Brittney Rorex, 26, is a Tucson native and the first in her family to earn a college degree. She double-majored in math and psychology, minored in chemistry and graduated from the UA in 2011. “My first exposure to the world of health care was when my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease,” Brittney says. “I was 11 and could not understand why he could no longer remember who I was.”
She was an honors student and research assistant as an undergraduate, while volunteering with a children’s agency in Tucson and a hospital in Thailand. “I can see myself in pediatrics,” she says.
Ravina Thuraisingam, 23, is Navajo. She is a 2012 Stanford graduate with a degree in human biology. She has known since elementary school that she wanted to be a doctor. In high school she volunteered at Flagstaff Medical Center, and at NAU she assisted in clinical research on mood disorders, genetic testing and aging. She shadowed physicians, and became a leader in pre-med student groups.
Ravina will be the first in her family to become a doctor. She is interested in emergency medicine and health care administration. “I believe that combining that work with other aspects of medicine will lead to better patient outcomes and overall wellness,” she says.