Elizabeth Avalos was born and raised in San Pablo, California. We are excited that she will be participating in the 2022 Prep Médico internship program this summer. Her interest in giving back to the community started while attending high school. This is when she developed an interest in early childhood development and healthcare. Avalos is currently studying nursing at College of Marin (COM) and will be the first person in her immediate family to pursue a career in the medical field.
The Journey to Prep Médico
The name Prep Médico itself derives from another phrase that means to prepare students to be physicians. This program is specifically designed to encourage and support the Latinx community to excel within the medical field. Currently, the Latinx community accounts for almost 40 percent of California's population but makes up less than 5 percent of physicians.
Language barriers and cultural nuances play a major role in the quality of medical treatment. UC Davis and The Permanente Medical Group have been actively trying to close the gap with the Prep Médico program over the last five years. This six-week course allows interns to participate in in-depth experiences, including providing medical support at local clinics.
Avalos' journey to becoming an intern with the Prep Médico program was serendipitous. She had established a strong career in early childhood development, taking up the mantle of being a Montessori teacher and customizing the educational experience of her pupils, but her desire to pursue a medical career began to ring louder as time progressed.
A significant shift jolted her decision to go back to school when the family she worked for decided to move to a different area. This seemed to be the sign that it was time for Avalos to make her own moves and put her dreams of working in the medical field into action.
"Before 2019, I was not familiar with College of Marin, but I knew that I wanted to go somewhere local with a good reputation. After some research, I knew that COM was my institution."
COM's initiative to promote opportunities for the Latinx community to advance in higher education was a significant selling point for Avalos. She was immediately provided with counselors and resources to transition from early childhood development to the medical field smoothly.
While acquiring her nursing school prerequisites, Avalos was introduced to the Prep Médico program and Chemistry Professor Paul Daubenmire, Ph.D., who would later become her mentor.
"I found out about the STEM Center through one of my microbiology classes. Daubenmire was promoting the Center and the different resources available to COM students."
Daubenmire joined COM in early 2017 and became the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Learning Community Coordinator in 2019. Promoting internships to students begins in August of each year, and in October, they hold internship presentations.
Purpose met opportunity in 2021 when Avalos heard a Prep Médico representative talk about the opportunities interns would receive in their program. Shortly after, Avalos was interviewed by Daubenmire who confirmed that the Prep Médico program would be a great opportunity that aligned with her medical career goals.
"I knew that Elizabeth would be a great candidate for this opportunity. She was already completing her nursing prerequisites, she had personal experiences that fueled her passion, and her prior work experience exposed her to the realization that she wanted to give back to her community," said Daubenmire.
Avalos expressed that Daubenmire had a big impact on her application experience.
"The application process can be intimidating and reminiscent of applying to university. It's a big deal when someone like Paul has faith in you. I know that I would not have been provided with this kind of support if I had gone somewhere else and he wasn't my mentor."
Steps Toward a Better Tomorrow
The Prep Médico program only selects 100 participants each year to participate in this hands-on experience. Daubenmire expressed that some students opt to work or focus entirely on classwork instead of pursuing internships, but they should consider the benefits.
"Students who pursue internships are provided with somewhat of a test drive in the career they are interested in. Unlike a job, an internship such as Prep Médico has a clear start and end date. Within that time, students can either confirm their interest in continuing on a particular career path or enjoy the exposure and seek a different one," explained Daubenmire.
According to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 70 percent of companies extend job offers to candidates who have completed internships in industry-related programs. This is also a great way to receive letters of recommendation for future opportunities.
Students who plan to transfer to other institutions after completing their studies at COM or other community colleges may also receive an added benefit by pursuing an internship.
"One of the challenges with community college students is the lack of the year-round experience that you may get at a four-year institution, especially that summer when you transfer and arrive at your new institution,” said Daubenmire. “Often there's a lapse during that time where students haven't tapped into the resources at their new campus, and internships like Prep Médico will help them not to lose traction."
Avalos shared how the experience has made her feel. She believes that having a work-, study-, and home-life balance will help her take on this rigorous program.
"I am so excited to start the program on June 13. We were given a brief preview, fueling my excitement for what is next. When I am not studying, I feel the most at peace being outside. I love to go to the beach and find different hiking spots. I am always renewed and can focus on my studies better when I incorporate downtime in nature."
Supporting Future Success
As the first person in her family to pursue a medical career, she will encourage other family members to seek excellence within the medical field and any dreams they have. Avalos represents why the Prep Médico program was created.
After graduation and her internship, Avalos shared what she’s planning next.
"Right now, I am excited to become a nurse, but I've also had a peak interest in becoming a neurologist or cardiologist. Hopefully, being part of this internship this summer will help me get some clarity. I feel like the sky is the limit, and when the opportunities arrive, I will go for them. COM has allowed me to grow within, and I want to keep pushing forward."
Hoping to be an inspiration for other students who are considering shifting career paths, Avalos offered this advice for success.
"Never get discouraged. No one can limit you on what you can achieve. Connect with others with a similar mindset and get the support you need to succeed. Connect with positivity. People will see your passion, and they will support you."
Daubenmire has been helping students to reach their career goals with COM for over six years and offered this advice for those interested in internship opportunities.
"Although Prep Médico, in particular, is its own entity, COM students will have access to supportive mentors and a list of dozens of internships available when they visit our website or our STEM Center on the first floor of SMN Building,” said Daubenmire. “Just be ready to ask questions, and we'll support you on your educational journey. We know that Elizabeth will be one of the many stars to shine in the Prep Médico, and you can be, too, by reaching out to College of Marin's STEM Center and Student Services team.”