When Teresa Moreno-Gómez was 5 years old, she was diagnosed with cancer and had to have a kidney removed. Since that time Moreno-Gómez has been cancer-free.
You could say that adversity early in life somewhat shape her path to consider going into medicine.
Moreno-Gómez, who graduated from Le Grand High School on May 31 with a 4.3 grade point average, said she always knew she wanted to be in the medical field.
The 17-year-old Planada resident was among several students enrolled in the school’s Medical Academy and who want to become doctors.
Like Moreno-Gómez, Isak Murillo said he grew up in hospitals and had surgeries when he was 1- and 2-years-old. Then he had an appendectomy at age 5 and all those experiences played a big role to consider a career in medicine.
Murillo, 18, plans to attend Sacramento State University in the fall to get his bachelor’s degree and would like to go to Stanford University Medical School. He wants to become a general surgeon.
Moreno-Gómez was accepted to four prestigious University of California schools and California State University, Stanislaus and hopes to get a bachelor’s degree in biology or pre-health and then go to a medical school to become an oncologist.
But when her training is over, Moreno said she wants to return to the San Joaquín Valley.
“I want to be able to give back to the community that helped me,” Moreno says. “The Medical Academy helped me look at different aspects of the medical field and helped me see different pathways.”
Like Moreno, Murillo also wants to come back to the community and do what was done for him.
Murillo, who graduated with a 3.75 GPA, wants to do the best that he can.
Both Moreno and Murillo already are certified nursing assistants. Part of their training was being exposed to medical professionals and their work at Mercy Medical Center in Merced, working in obstetrics, pharmacy, surgery, oncology and radiology departments. Murillo works in the hospital’s radiology department.
According to Donna Alley, superintendent of the Le Grand Union High School District, this is the fifth year for the Medical Academy, which began with a $130,000 grant six years ago.
Alley said 16 seniors were involved in academy programs and 100 students in ninth through 12th grades are participating. In 2018, 21 students graduated from the academy.
According to Alley, the academy works in conjunction with a 20-member District Advisory Council which has representatives from UC Merced, Stanislaus State, Fresno State, Golden Valley Health Centers and Dignity Health.
A fall conference is held for students and their parents by the council. The all-day program offers classes for parents and students to learn about colleges offering medical programs and financial aid opportunities as well as sessions on health careers and college options and a guess speaker.
A fundraising dinner last fall raised about $17,000 for scholarships to graduating seniors, according to Alley.
Alley said the Medical Academy is an outgrowth of efforts by the Building Healthy Communities program, pushing career technical education in the medical field. Saying the Merced area needs doctors and other medical professionals across the board, she is hoping more people in the medical field will get involved supporting the academy’s efforts.
According to Alley, teachers work together to develop curriculum that supports academy programs to enrich science and technology subjects which students need to pursue health classes.
“We have expanded options as far as what careers could be. It’s been one of the best things we’ve done for the kids as far as opening doors for them,” Alley said.
Delhi and Dos Palos high schools also offer medical academies in Merced County. The “pipeline” to enter Le Grand’s Medical Academy begins at either César Chávez Middle School in Planada or Le Grand Elementary School.
Programs such as Medical Academy – which plan the seed to grow its own doctors who will come back to the Valley to serve their community – are important in the Valley which is in dare need for health care providers.
Other counties in the Valley offer similar programs. One of those programs is the Doctors Academy program in Fresno County which was launched in 1999 at Sunnyside High School and later expanded to Caruthers and Selma high schools in 2007. Doctors Academy provides a supportive and academically rigorous education pipeline program for students from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds.
Another program that address the shortage of doctors and medical providers in the Central Valley is the Doc B.A.N.D (Build and Navigate Your Destiny) program which takes place in in the city of Visalia in Tulare County. The program is put on in partnership with Kaweah Delta Medical Center, the Tulare County Office of Education, the Visalia Economic Development Corporation, Visalia Unified School District and Central Valley Christian Schools and gives pre-selected Visalia high school students the opportunity to have a glimpse of what healthcare providers such as doctors, nurses, physical therapists and more do each day.