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Old Path to a New Destination
Jirayut Latthivongskorn will be the first undocumented UCSF medical student, but his path there is a familiar immigrant story.
By Jirayut Latthivongskorn
Last year, 7,308 students applied to UCSF medical school. 149 were accepted. But only one student in next year's class is undocumented and that's me. It's the first time UCSF has ever accepted an undocumented student.
My family came to California when I was nine. My parents worked at Thai restaurants 'til 11:00 pm every night. Whenever I tried to help the answer never changed: "Don't worry, and do your job." My job was to get an education.
Growing up, it never occurred to me to see a doctor. We had the immigrant mindset where life was about surviving, not living. We kept our heads down, worked, studied. Our health was secondary.
We had this big cabinet full of medicine we'd go to when we got sick. It was packed with pain killers, cold and flu medicine, ointments, some old antibiotics from Thailand.
My junior year we took my mom to the emergency room. Bleeding excessively, she fainted. She couldn't understand the doctors and they couldn't understand her. I translated, but wanted to do more for her. That's when I first thought: "I want to become a doctor."
A lot of undocumented young people want to go into medicine because the way we struggled with health growing up has got to change. But undocumented Californians like my family don't have access to the health care I'll be trained to provide. Without it, a minor ache or cough can escalate out of control and lead to the emergency room. That's an expensive substitute for regular medical care.
Sickness doesn't discriminate. We're your neighbors, your co-workers. Our kids go to school together. If we keep everyone healthy, we can keep California healthy.
That's why I'm excited about the "Health For All" bill introduced by State Senator Lara. No one should suffer or die from an easily treatable condition because of where they were born. Our system works best when everyone participates. That's the health care system I hope to work for when I graduate four years from now.
With a Perspective, I'm Jirayut Latthivongskorn.
Jirayut Latthivongskorn is part of a network of undocumented students pursuing careers in health care called "Pre-Health Dreamers."