Paying It Forward
Christopher Medina has a vision for how to give back to the state he calls home, and this month he will be pursuing that path as a University of New Mexico School of Medicine graduate.
Medina grew up in Las Cruces, where he attended public schools, but he also spent time in Cloudcroft with his family. "I got to have both the rural and urban upbringing,” he says.
In high school, Medina enjoyed music, playing percussion for the marching band and bass guitar in a jazz band. "I thought I was going to be a music teacher until I had a very charismatic chemistry teacher,” he recalls. “That gave me an interest in science and put me in a different direction."
That new direction led him to train as an emergency medical technician. "It was an interesting experience and I wanted to get more into the field after that,” Medina says.
With his family’s support, he was accepted into The University of New Mexico Combined BA/MD Degree Program as a first-generation college student. "I just went in the pre-med direction without ever looking back," he says.
Medina hit the ground running thanks to his interest in basic science, and learned how to be a college student as he went. For his public health project, he spoke to people experiencing emotional trauma while working the phones at a crisis hotline in Las Cruces.
"I think that type of thing helps you be a better listener once you're in a clinical setting as a doctor,” Medina says.
But his determination to learn as much as he could didn’t end there.
As an undergraduate, Medina’s interest in science and medicine led him to volunteer as a research assistant in a laboratory run by Elaine Bearer, MD, PhD. Bearer, the Harvey Family Professor in the UNM Department of Pathology, taught Medina how to perform brain imaging in mice, among other techniques, deepening his fascination with research.
“It isn't just some known entity that you're studying or memorizing – you're more of a pioneer, where you get to explore new things in science," he says. “Taking that next step from learning science to doing science was a challenge, and one of my more memorable experiences."
Medina continued working with Bearer, spending whatever time he had off from medical school in her lab. "I used the time I would've used to rest to go into the lab," he says.
His devotion to research even included taking time out in the middle of medical school to finish his projects and publish multiple papers. Medina says that the culmination of all his work was becoming expert in his closely defined area of science: imaging of neuronal transport in the rodent brain.
Then it was time to finish medical school and achieve his ultimate goal: to become the first doctor in his family. "It's a good feeling to know that you're able to help people and that the School of Medicine has determined you're qualified to be a doctor," he says.
Looking back, Medina acknowledges the mentors who helped him along the way, from his BA/MD advisors and professors to his medical school learning community and research mentor.
Now, he hopes to incorporate all of his passions into a career in psychiatry or neurology. "Because of the experiences I've talked about, I have an interest in the brain, but also in helping people, both physically and emotionally," Medina says.
But first, he will travel to El Paso for a transitional internship year at Las Palmas Del Sol Healthcare, where he will focus on internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics and surgery. Medina hopes to return to New Mexico afterwards to start giving back to the communities that raised him.
With his Cherokee grandmother and family in mind, Medina knows where his medical training can help. "I've seen that the Native American community has one of the worst health disparities of any community, and so that ended up being a particular group that I was interested in helping," he says.
He has also seen the hardships of immigration to a new country through the eyes of his Mexican grandmother. "When I see patients from an impoverished background, I feel like I have more understanding and empathy," Medina says.
Medina hopes the experiences he gained at UNM will serve him well in the state’s medical community for years to come. “Medicine is an interesting and meaningful job,” he says. “You get to scratch that science itch and also be involved with helping people with their lives and their health."