More than anything else, Simon Mendoza wants to be a doctor.
He was 13 when the idea morphed from childhood ambition into a real goal — after his father suffered a workplace accident, and Mendoza as his interpreter accompanied him to appointments and helped direct his physical therapy.
At 16, he obtained a certified nursing assistant (CNA) license and, volunteering with the Red Cross, traveled to Louisiana to help provide medical care after Hurricane Gustav in 2008.
And just before he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Washington last year, Mendoza started a free clinic to help deliver basic health care to those living in rural areas of the state — including the little town of Royal City, Grant County, where he grew up.
But for all he’s done to prepare, medical school remains only a distant hope for the 22-year-old Mendoza, whose parents brought him to the U.S. illegally from Mexico when he was less than a year old.
The UW School of Medicine, which he wants to attend, does not admit people who are in the country unlawfully — a policy that exists at all but one of the nation’s medical schools.
“If someone asked me to pick the one person I’d like to see admitted (to medical school), he would be my choice,” said Jaime Lara, a microbiology professor who retired in 2011 after nearly 40 years at the UW, many of them on the admissions committee of the medical school.
“He’ll make an excellent physician one day.”
For undergraduate and all other graduate programs, the UW not only accepts undocumented immigrants, but under state law also grants them in-state tuition
The Interests of the Medical Profession and Medical Education – A diverse medical workforce is very important to the health of our communities for reasons that are well-known. Physicians who share ethnic, cultural or racial backgrounds with underserved patients are more likely to choose to serve those underserved populations, produce improved outcomes, and can become role models within the community. In addition, it is desirable that all physicians develop a level of cultural sensitivity and competence. Training side-by-side in a diverse student body can foster understanding of persons and cultures different from one’s own. Thus, increasing diversity benefits all students.
DREAMers represent a potential source of qualified and diverse talent that will be an asset to the medical education environment, the medical profession, and patients. These young people are often bi-cultural, bi-lingual, and possess insight into the immigrant experience. In a nation that has a large immigrant population, these young people can help to foster the ability of the physician workforce to treat the array of patients they will encounter in their practices.
DACA status removes a long-standing barrier to securing a residency slot – Medical school graduates who have DACA status will be eligible to gain a state license to practice medicine and thereby enter a residency training program. Prior to the creation of the DACA program, any DREAMer who graduated medical school would be unable to secure a work authorization and a social security number. Thus, he or she would be unable to gain a license to practice medicine and enter residency training. Medical schools understandably had been reluctant to accept and educate students who would not be able to treat patients. Such a situation would consume significant resources of the educational institution without meeting its goal, namely to produce physicians to serve the community’s patient populations. As this barrier is no longer an insurmountable obstacle, it is incumbent upon medical schools to evaluate DREAMers for admission based on their qualifications and potential, not their immigration status.