Roberto De Los Santos
I. West Coast → East Coast
II. Goodbye, Canada…
III. First Generation
IV. Leaving Texas
V. Army to Podiatry
Everybody in podiatry has a story – a unique beginning, a struggle, and a motivation. We all come from different backgrounds and different customs, but what unites us is the love for our profession. After spending hours and hours of studying, reading books, and stressing over exams, we sometimes forget our own humble beginnings. Behind the immense amounts of science-literature exists a human side to podiatry that I wanted to capture. “Podiatry Americana” is meant to express a rich vibrant image of each individual, as they illustrate their journey into podiatry medical school.
Here are their stories.
I. West Coast → East Coast
Monique was born and raised in Northern California, near the hills of Napa Valley wine country. She attended University of California, Davis and later attended graduate school at Barry University in Miami. She now attends New York College of Podiatric Medicine (NYCPM) and has just completed her first year of rigorous schooling. When deciding on which of the nine schools to go to podiatry medical school, she states she was looking for something in particular.
“I wanted to be somewhere that I could see myself thriving. I wanted a strong support group. I wanted a city where my family could travel, if I was ever homesick they could take the next plane over. I had a lot of friends from undergrad who moved to New York for theater and acting careers. It helped my transition, I knew I had a good core set of friends here to help me have time away from medical school.”
-One Way Flight-
As we can all imagine, moving from coast to coast isn’t easy. You have to plan what are you going to take, get rid of old supplies, and start packing loads of personal bags. You need to decide what materialistic things are important to you, and still keep old gems to remind you of comfort or home. Next, you have to consider where are you going to live? How am I going to get there? How’s the weather like there? Monique spoke a little bit about her transition:
“I flew, definitely flew. No need for a car in the city. I walk everywhere or take the subway. The only thing that was new to me was the weather change, I had never experienced a true winter, that momentum going into my first year made me choose the east coast even more. I packed two large suitcases, a carry-on, my laptop, and moved. That is literally all I had. It’s crazy now that I think about it.”
-Living in New York-
Waking up in New York City is a one of a kind experience. Once the sun peaks a shimmering light early in the morning, the town comes to life. The street birds are eating, the sidewalk filled with crowds going to work, jaywalking is an accepted lifestyle, the subway attracts local performers, the Broadway lights are gleaming, and the sounds of excited tourists can be heard at every landmark. Let’s not forget to mention the food; you can never leave Manhattan island without eating the famous hot dogs at Time Square, or grabbing a slice of New York’s thin crust pizza. “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” is the motto that inspired many to move here and pursue their American dream. After living for an entire year in The Big Apple, Monique shared this about her experience:
“I love the hustle and energy of the city. You can always step out of your door and there is always something to do. Everyone is driven in their own field, and it pushes you to try and do it in your own field, podiatry. It is inspiring, infections, and it pushes you, the momentum is great! Every time I talk about it lights a fire under my foot because you are surrounded by everyone who is working towards their own goal as well.”
Although you may be living in one of the most entertaining cities in the world, you still have to remember why you moved there in the first place – attend podiatry medical school. You are still a student, you still have obligations, and you still have a job to do for yourself. It can be easy to get distracted in a fun-filled city, but you have to learn to stay balanced by prioritizing.
“The benefits of my school are that our curriculum it is one of the most packed curricula, with that our board pass rates and the matching rate is high… [you are always] busy and in that mindset of ‘I have to study, I have to study’, you forget to take time for yourself. I go out and run. Central Park is right there and sometimes I just stop and take a break. Just trying to stay present and maintain a balance. Yes, you need to work hard and have good grades, but it is important to be mentally, physically, and emotionally happy.”
Monique has done what only a few podiatry students have had a chance to do – move from coast to coast to pursue her dream. It isn’t easy to drop everything and move to a completely different state. When asked, what recommendation do you have for a reader who is applying for podiatry school? Monique had this to say,
“When going about applying to all the nine schools, choose a setting where you see yourself thrive, you will be there for four years, so you need to evaluate what type of environment you can picture yourself being successful in. Find YOUR atmosphere! Get your ‘feet wet’ and shadow a podiatrist before starting the application process. Be prepared to work hard, and stop at nothing to achieve your dream and become a physician.”
II. Goodbye, Canada…
Ajay was born in Edmonton, the capital city of the province of Alberta, Canada. However, he spent the majority of his high school time in Vancouver, British Columbia. During this time, he would often go help his father, a veterinarian, in his clinic. He attended the University of British Columbia in Vancouver majoring in life sciences and minoring in chemistry and environmental sciences.
Ajay originally was interested in entering the dental profession, or general medical school. The field of podiatry medicine wasn’t even a thought because it’s so rarely heard of in Canada. Ajay had this to say about it:
“In Canada, you kind of don’t know about podiatry. When you hear about podiatry no one really knows how to become a podiatrist. If you have foot problems you first go to your family doctor and he will refer you to a foot and ankle specialist. So, people don’t really know that [podiatry is] in a different category.”
-Shadowing in Vancouver-
As much as he enjoyed working with his dad, being a veterinarian wasn’t his calling. Ajay loves pets but didn’t like treating pets. He luckily went to shadow a local podiatrist, Dr. Stern in Vancouver, to gain interest in this specific profession. His first impression of the field was so great, he went back to the doctor and shadow more.
“Since day one, he was super welcoming, super excited, he was super excited about what he was doing. He loved his patients, his patients loved him. He dealt with a lot of sports medicine, he saw sports injuries, especially hockey injuries, and occupational injuries. I really liked that atmosphere.”
He enjoyed the patient population, the surgery aspect, and the overall feel of the profession. However, Ajay still didn’t know whether to pursue it fully or not. He asked for advice from his dad’s friends, who were MD doctors:
“I talked to my dad’s friend who was a nephrologist in New York and he kind of gave me good feedback on podiatry. ‘If I could choose it all over again I would choose that profession.’ That was a big push for me to pursue [podiatry]”
-The Best Fit School-
While applying to the nine schools, Ajay had to consider a couple of things before making a final decision. Remember, he is leaving the country he grew up to attain a higher education elsewhere. This is a big move considering that you are going to live in that place for about four-years. Here is what Ajay had to say:
“There were a couple factors. One, which is the best fit personality wise. Two, another thing was a proximity to home – at the end of the day that plays a big role, CSPM was closest to home. Three, the culture of the school. I applied to four schools but this one felt overall the best for me. Vancouver and San Francisco are very similar. Even culture wise they are pretty similar. In Vancouver, we have one of the most liberal cultures in respect to human rights just like SF. That is why I chose it. So, I drove my car [while] my family drove an SUV and took the 14-hour drive. I packed just clothes and maybe some personal things but all the other stuff I left behind.”
There is no current residency in Canada. Ajay explained that there used to be a residency in Vancouver but it got shut down in 2010. As a fourth-year, he is now traveling around the country while completing his externships. You’re a nomad in an unfamiliar city, and by the time you feel comfortable with one residency program, it is time to leave for the next one. When asked, how can you handle a balanced life while in your fourth-year? Ajay commented:
“I can already tell it is difficult to move month to month, it is going to be a process. It takes a week to settle in [and] start feeling comfortable. I can see that being a bit of the hiccup. But I will manage.”
What advice do you have to a fellow Canadian student who may be interested in attending podiatry in the US and follow your route? Ajay had this advice:
“Really evaluate where you want to be and where you want to do. There is a lot of things you cannot do in Canada but you can do it in the US, in terms of scope of practice. Really stay up to date, shadow a practice. And get your car in the US, don’t bring it from Canada, it was the most expensive and long process ever!”
III. First Generation
The following is written in first-person.
-Moving to L.A.-
My name is Juan Ceja Solorio and I am from Los Angeles, California. I was born in Michoacan, Mexico and immigrated to the United States when I was about one year old when my parents decided that it would be the best decision for our future. I have one older brother and one younger brother. My older brother is a Triple-A minor league baseball umpire and my younger brother plays minor league baseball. My dad is a retired electrician and my mom has always been a housewife. I was raised in Los Angeles and grew up in a primarily Hispanic community speaking both English and Spanish. I eventually went to UCLA for my undergraduate education, where I majored in Biology and received minors in Spanish and Conservation Biology. During undergrad, I played Club Baseball for 3 years and I had two part-time jobs as a high school baseball umpire and a research assistant. I also spent time shadowing in different health clinics, since I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in healthcare, but I did not know which field. I took one year off between undergrad and podiatry school, during which I shadowed and worked at a podiatry clinic and proceeded through the application process of podiatry school. During school now, I currently work as a Lyft driver to help supplement the student loans that I have been taking on.
-“Monday Morning, I Love My Job”-
I first heard about Podiatry while I was shadowing in a Pediatrics clinic in Los Angeles. A Podiatry student was doing their 4th-year rotation through that clinic and during the conversation he began to mention all of the pros that come with the field of Podiatry. Intrigued, I did some research and after some emails, I was able to contact the Chief of Podiatry at UCLA. After about 1 week of shadowing, I was convinced that Podiatry was the field I needed to pursue. I continued to shadow and work at this clinic for my entire year off before Podiatry school. Everything I was looking for in a career I found in Podiatry. You are a specialist, you are a surgeon, you work with a tremendous variety of people, and although you focus on the foot and ankle, you see an immense amount of different pathologies. I made it a point to ask every physician that I shadowed if they would pursue the same field of medicine if they had a chance to go back and start over, the only field that was unanimous was Podiatry, every single podiatrist that I asked said “yes”. One response in particular that has really stuck with me was from the chief of podiatry and my mentor, who has been practicing for over 30 years:
“let me tell you this, I don’t ever go to sleep on Sunday nights complaining that I have to come to work on Monday morning, I love my job.”
-Being The First Is Tough-
One of the main struggles you face being first in the family to graduate from college and pursue a graduate degree is following an uncharted path with unknown obstacles. First of all, there is no one to give you advice about different graduate fields or careers. There is no one to guide you through the application process, to help you with the material, to give you advice on how to approach school, or to give you information about how to financially afford school. Attempting to go through all of this was definitely intimidating, but although I could not get guidance from my family, I did receive a tremendous amount of love and support and I would not be where I am today without them.
-La Misión Médica-
During Podiatry school I have made an effort to be more involved than I was in undergrad. I served as class president during my second year, I volunteer at a clinic that serves uninsured patients in Sacramento, and I am co-director of a yearly medical mission to San Ysidro, California. During the medical mission, we provide podiatric healthcare to uninsured and underserved patients near the San Ysidro and Tijuana border. Being a primarily Hispanic and Spanish speaking population from Mexico, this medical mission hits close to home and is near and dear to my heart. I have family members that face the same dilemmas as the people in San Ysidro when seeking medical care and being able to help these people and make a difference in their life is immensely rewarding. Besides being involved in podiatry related activities, I also play soccer on a school-sponsored indoor soccer team. This has a been a great way to interact with upperclassmen and students from other fields. It also serves as a great break from all of the studying.
My long-term goals in Podiatry include returning to practice where I first began shadowing and working with the podiatrist that I now consider my mentor. It would be a privilege to be able to practice alongside the physicians that I look up to and respect.
My main advice to first-generation students that may be considering applying to Podiatry school would be to work hard. I am a firm believer that anything is achievable with hard work and you are the only person that has control over how hard you work. I would also recommend shadowing as many different health professions as you can, including shadowing a Podiatrist. Podiatry is a field that you must be completely sure you want to pursue, as you will be specializing from the very beginning. My final piece of advice would be to enjoy the process. It is strenuous and stressful to go through the application process and to go through school, but it is a life-changing experience that should be enjoyed and appreciated.
IV. Leaving Texas
Frankie was born in a little town east of Houston called Beaumont, Texas. She went on to attend Harden Jefferson High school in Sour Lake, Texas and later attended the well-known Texas A & M University, home of the Aggies. While attending undergraduate school, she attained a degree in Biomedical science. She was preparing to take the pre-med route as many students had done before her. However, her career choice changed last minute as she shadowed a podiatrist in their clinic. Frankie explains how it all went during the process:
“I did all the pre-medicine route including volunteering in a hospital, getting good grades. I considered medical school, so I did apply to Texas medical schools and did the entire full application except for the essays. However, [during the time of application] I shadowed a podiatrist and had no idea it was a separate degree. I spend 3 days with that doctor and after that, I decided that this was my life career. ”
Frankie’s profession of choice went from pre-med to pre-pod after shadowing this specific podiatrist. This life-changing career pathway is rare but certainly not unheard of, as seen in Frankie’s case. I asked, what exactly did you see or feel to change your mind? When did you know that podiatry was right for you? Frankie laughed and recollected her memory in detail.
“He took me to surgery and I saw a TMA (trans-metatarsal amputation), and I thought it was really cool, really gnarly. He said that she was one of the few pre-med students to the OR and see that particular surgery. In the clinic, his patients were all appreciative of what he did, there were no grumpy patients. I thought, ‘I always wanted to be a very passionate and caring physician like him’. With feet, you can give pain relief sometimes instantly, I felt like this was a good profession to fulfill my life’s purpose.”
-Applying for Schools-
Applying for podiatry medical school seems straightforward but it can be tough. Remember, Texas does not have a podiatry school, so you are forced to leave the Lone Star State to attain this special form of education. There are only nine podiatry medical schools in the country. Each has its own perks, history, and traditions. Not to mention each school is located in a specific geographic location of the country so it can be a hard decision to just choose one. Frankie’s decision was a simple one:
“I applied to 5-6 school because I wanted to live in certain places, I had a Western U first and I felt like it was the right place to be so I just accepted the offer when they gave it to me. The dean was very personable, he welcomed us with open arms. It felt like home, so I accepted. I was looking for a school where I will accomplish my goals for becoming a great physician, [and] live in a location that sounded nice for me and my husband. Southern California sounded really exciting!”
-The U-Haul Move-
Right after graduating from Texas A & M, Frankie went straight to podiatry school. That same summer, she married her husband, packet a rental van, and drove halfway across America. She had this to say about the moving process:
“My husband and I just got married 3 weeks before we had to move and we had a bunch of presents. We did not open them, we packed a U-Haul, [including] all furniture, and left the family memorabilia with our parents. We drove across the country in a giant U-Haul. We hauled a car as well, while I drove a separate car so it was a caravan of two. Parents came with us, they helped to pay for gas, transportation, down payment for my first-month rent. That was really helpful. The drive from Texas to California is a total of 24 hours so we took 3 days to get there. When we got there, we moved into a house and ate In-and-Out for the first time. When we moved we had 2 dogs, a chocolate lab named Millie and long hair chihuahua named Ziggy. Six months into the school we got a cat, I couldn’t resist. We have a small family.”
-Living in SoCal-
Frankie had left her small town to move into the big city. Although she had been accepted into podiatry school, she wasn’t out of the woods yet. After a few months of attending, Frankie took a leave of absence but returned the following year. This was a big learning experience for her, this is what she shared:
“So I did a lot in that one year; I graduated, I moved across America, got married that summer, I was a new student in a very stressful environment with a new husband, neither of us had real money. I became an adult in one big slam, it was really hard so I needed some time off. It’s different to live in California that it is from Texas, I never lived in a city before, just regular size cities. And then I moved to a giant metropolitan area so that was a huge change.”
The City of Angels has a lot to offer from culture, entertainment, and history. It has endless options of Instagram liked foods, Hollywood is just around the corner, celebrities can be seen occasionally, Venice Beach offers a nice getaway ocean spot, and a theme park is just a drive away if you need to see Mickey Mouse or a T-Rex. After living for so many years, I asked Frankie how she enjoyed her living situation.
“… there is always, always something to do! [The] weather is wonderful, never humid like Houston but also it never rains, which I miss a lot. I love going to Disneyland, doing Hollywood stuff. I have been to a couple show tapings and tried auditioning for things because it’s fun, never a lack of things. There is every cuisine available in Los Angles! Although the school is on the outskirts you [are] still a drive’s away from the city.”
When asked, what are some of the downfalls of living in L.A.? This was Frankie’s response:
“The traffic is my least favorite thing in the world, being in a heavy populated area, just feels [like] there are too many people. Long term, I do want to be in a more rural place, I love having my own space, and my own yard. It’s also hard to find nature when in the city, I feel like I need to drive 45 minutes to see nature. Basically, I am a country girl living in the city and its hard.”
Now, Frankie is entering her fourth year of podiatry school and it consists of traveling to different hospitals every month. When asked, what recommendation do you have to a fellow Texan who is uncertain of leaving home to pursue a podiatry medical school? Frankie had this advice:
“Never be scared to leave Texas because you will probably be going back eventually, Texas is home. You can experience the enormity of America if you do not leave Texas and see why Texas is special. Podiatry is a great career, I highly recommend to anybody interested in medicine and surgery.”
V. Army to Podiatry School
-Signing Up for The Army-
James was born in Utah but raised in multiple cities across the country. His father had a job in agriculture and wherever a job was available, he and his family would move. At an early age, he was accustomed to moving; he lived in Utah, Oregon, and Michigan. This would later help him adjust when moving to undergrad, medical school, and even now 4th-year externships. Further down the line, after finishing his Mormon missionary program in Chicago, James went on to partake in college. After only participating for a semester, James realized that he wanted “adventure and excitement”. He began talking to an army recruiter and later took a test that gave him army placement possibilities. One of his choices given was participating as a Combat Medic Specialist. James explained his role while being in this service:
“As a combat medic, you jump out of planes. You [complete] basic training and medical training so its kind of like an EMT. [You] do IVs, tourniquets, but essentially you stabilize the patient and transport them. So, your role is to travel along with a platoon or group of soldiers, and you are in control; jump in, and bring them out. You are still trained to do suturing, control bleeding, any bandage, and how to move a patient – like how to put them on a stretcher, helicopter, and trucks. It’s really fast pace training, 100% combat training.”
James was stationed at Fort Bragg military base and was assigned the unit of the 82nd Airborne Division. Being a combat medic was his initial introduction to the field of medicine and what inspired him to pursue the healthcare field later on. After finishing his time of service, he moved to be closer to his wife who was stationed at Oklahoma Air Force. He then attended Oklahoma University with a major in Health & Exercise Science.
-Accepting the Offer-
After finishing his undergraduate degree, James knew he wanted to continue in the field of medicine. He was initially interested in MD and DO, however, after meeting with his pre-med advisor, he was explained a little bit about podiatry, so he decided to apply. James recalled what he was looking for during the application process:
“I went to the [podiatry] interview and it sounded like a good match. You can still do surgery, do clinic. It fit my family… I had a lot of personal experience in surgery, working with patients, and working with trauma. It had the appeal to me to get my hands dirty, I didn’t want to NOT go into OR.”
After many school visits and interviews, James decided to accept his offer at Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine (KSUCPM). Ohio seemed like a good fit for him and his family. James explained what he was looking for during his school decision making:
“A lot of it came down to cost of living, we had our first kid, [so] we did not look into New York or California. My first [choice] was Cleveland. They record all their classes and had their own anatomy class … we knew we will have a second kid so I wanted to have a flexible schedule to maintain my own study habits and not have mandatory classes. A lot of it was trying to balance: family life and school life. [My school] really helped, they help around my schedule, I caught up with my classes at night. It’s easier than it sounds like. I got plenty of notes done when the kids were asleep.”
James had to learn to transition from a life of high stress and fast pace, to now one of ‘slow and steady’. As you can imagine going from being active in the military to now a civilian can be very different. Here is what James had to say,
“It’s different to transition into a clinical side, you are not running around. In the army, you carry all your supplies in a backpack so if you don’t have it, you have to improvise! For example, if you forget a needle driver, you use pliers. In podiatry, you have to take baby steps like learning to take off calluses and then nails. You do not start right away doing IVs. So, I had to tone it back and [learn to] slow down. I was ready for the ER and do crazy things. Just have to learn to take it one step at a time.”
-Juggling Babies & Books-
“If you have a family it is very possible to [have a] balance life. Yes, there are some mandatory classes but it is all based on your support – if you can find friends and family or a local babysitter. Part of it also is thinking about money, once you have a family you have to start taking care of other people. Luckily, we had saved for the first year to take care of ourselves. I received an air force stipend, I got paid for being enrolled in school through a scholarship… for me, it was essential to have a life balance so I wouldn’t have to find a part-time job.”
When asked, what recommendation do you have an individual in the military who might be considering podiatry as a future career? James had this advice,
“Definitely use the resources as a veteran, definitely if you have a disability. Sign up for programs in the VA to help pay for school. If you feel comfortable going back, definitely look at scholarships. Maintain goal oriented as taught in the military. How will I achieve this goal? What do I need to do? How do I study? Look at the disciplined you learned to really help yourself.”
James is part of the Veterans Association at Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine.
Interviews performed by Roberto De Los Santos
All portrait and personal images donated by the interviewed students, respectively.
Published on June 18, 2018.