December 23, 2019 • By Sydney Charles
Medical school can be the hardest experience in a student’s life. If you’re a DACA student that is also pursuing your MBA—things get even more difficult. That’s the reality of UCI MD/MBA student Oscar Hernandez—who’s motivation is to help the community that shaped him.
Hernandez’s parents were 17 and 18 when he was born, and when he was only two years old, they moved to the U.S in pursuit of a better life for their son. His family found home in a trailer park in San Diego.
“When my parents couldn’t take me to school or to soccer practice, my neighbors would volunteer to do it,” Hernandez explained. “That’s really where I got my sense of community,” he continued. “Even though we were all underserved and under resourced, my community helped me. These are the people I want to give back to.”
After receiving an undergraduate degree from UC San Diego, he realized that his way to pay homage to his family and community would be through medical school and business school.
He said, “When I started getting older, I realized that the best way to give back would be if I pursued medicine and one day became a doctor to help communities just like my own.”
Hernandez went on to become UCI School of Medicine’s first DACA student, and the first DACA student in the MD/MBA program. His inspiration to pursue an MBA is to think creatively and create projects that improve access to higher education and improve health outcomes for families and communities like his own.
The MD/MBA program prepares future doctors to also become future leaders and manage healthcare organizations and institutions. They receive instruction from both the UCI of Medicine and the UCI Paul Merage School of Business and apply for the program during their second year of medical school.
Although he is proud of his accomplishments, his pursuit of a degree in higher education has not been easy due to his immigration status.
“I’m happy and I’m proud,” said Hernandez. “This has been my dream since I’ve been a kid, but it wasn’t until undergrad that I realized being undocumented was going to make it much more difficult for me to earn my degrees. I didn’t qualify for financial aid, and I couldn’t even take out loans.”
Undeterred, he’s paying his tuition through paid fellowships, merit-based scholarships and a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Dr. Charles Vega, executive director of the UC Irvine Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community and assistant dean for culture and community education, says “Like many DACA students, Oscar faced significant challenges at almost every step of his education. And, also like many such students, he has developed creative and hard-won solutions to these challenges.”
As a trailblazer, Hernandez is setting benchmarks for those that may follow in his path.
“Both of the Schools have been working to create a path for me and future students and I want to do well so that other undocumented students will be accepted.”
Hernandez explained that UCI offered valuable resources for students facing unique challenges:
“I definitely think UCI is more accepting of diversity. They have a large Latino population, so they have resources like the UCI Dream Center and minority student groups. I’ve really enjoyed that because I’ve found support through all those different ways at UCI.”
Hernandez also advocates for underrepresented populations as president of UCI’s Latino Medical Student Association and co-founder of the UndocuMed student organization. Through UndocuMed, Hernandez hopes to help students like himself long after he’s graduated from medical school.
“He is working to provide stronger educational environments for low-income children, while paying attention to their physical and mental wellbeing as well,” said Vega. "He regularly donates his time to the student-run free clinic. And he is a go-to mentor for students interested in health and science careers, particularly for DACA students like himself.”
Ultimately, the strife he’s endured–during childhood and as a student–has strengthened his drive to expand access to surgical care to underserved communities like his own. He looks forward to becoming a surgeon in a residency that values the power of community.