The age old saying, “it takes a village to raise a child,” is true of my pathway to medicine. Realizing the importance of the village in the nurturing of physicians is crucial to sowing the seeds for supporting and developing tomorrow’s medical leaders.
My parents came to the United States from Guatemala during their adolescence, a time when most of us are more consumed by our education and blossoming social lives rather than adjustment to a new country, full-time employment and survival. My parents were motivated by both the need to provide for their families back home, as well as the need to seek and chart out new economic and personal opportunities. Their respective paths crossed in Chicago in the mid-1970s. Having grown up with very limited means in one of Latin America’s poorest countries, their own lives in those first few years at times reflected the poverty and struggles that they had left back home. The Guatemalan community in Chicago back then was small but united, and allowed them to weather the financial, cultural and personal challenges that they faced as they transitioned to adulthood. Once they wed and had me, they allowed themselves to more freely dream that their son’s life would be free of the challenges that they had faced in their own youth.
My own upbringing, though financially limited, was geographically and figuratively remote from their own. Realizing the importance of education, my parents enrolled me in quality schools from pre-school onwards. To this day, I struggle to understand how they managed to afford my tuition. Although I have aspired to pursue a scientific profession my entire life, my pathway to medicine did not become obvious until high school. Of course, I had not yet realized the efforts that my own village had undertaken to nurture my passions and talents. My early interest in paleontology and astronomy was especially encouraged by my mother, who provided me ample opportunity to visit the neighborhood library, purchased every book imaginable pertaining to these fields of study, and took me on countless trips to Chicago’s fantastic museums. These efforts fostered and cultivated my inquisitive nature and allowed a love of science to blossom. Aunts and cousins who had recently completed their own studies in various professions provided additional emotional and moral support, and mentorship. Additionally, the responsibility I felt towards my own younger brothers pushed me to serve as an inspiration for them.
When I left home for college, I quickly learned that my village had to grow. My family, as well-meaning and supportive as they had been, did not have the answers to the questions I began to ask. I sought out other classmates who shared similar aspirations. I approached professors and physicians for guidance and volunteer opportunities. I studied on three continents to further develop my interest and understanding of global health and international development. I worked in laboratories over summer breaks with researchers who enthusiastically included me in their projects and patiently taught me proper lab technique. This network had begun to lay the groundwork for my eventual matriculation into medical school on a substantial scholarship.
My village in medical school challenged me to push the boundaries of my abilities, and cemented my interests. Although my aspiration to become an infectious disease physician waned, I discovered a newfound passion for the field of oncology and its role on the forefront of precision medicine. My village, comprised of fellow medical students, basic science researchers, clinicians, administrators, friends and family, allowed me to imagine a world where I could continue my studies at some of the world’s best medical centers. In both of my graduate medical educational experiences, I was inspired and challenged by fellow trainees from around the world, driven by many of the same passions that had called me to medicine. Along this path, we were shaped by the physicians and researchers who taught and mentored us. We realized that we, too, had something to impart on those assuming the pathway to medicine, particularly those who, like me, are not yet well represented in the medical community.
I find myself at an enviable and exciting crossroads: experienced enough to help shape the next generation of physicians, but young enough to seek and embrace the guidance and experience of more senior colleagues. The opportunity to impact the lives of young physicians of color is humbling and endlessly rewarding. In this spirit, I hope our village continues to grow.
Jonathan Moreira, MD, '16 GME
Department of Medicine (Hematology and Oncology)
Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine