“Luckily, I was able to get a substantial amount of financial aid for my undergraduate degree, but med school has been on my own,” says third-year student Savannah Gonzales, who last year received UCI’s Christopher and Mehrangiz Lundquist Medical Education Award. Steve Zylius / UCI

When UCI medical student Savannah Gonzales was 4 years old, her grandmother was in a severe car accident. She and her mom immediately left California for Nevada, where the older woman had been hospitalized.

“Some of my earliest memories are from when we were living in Las Vegas, getting my grandma back on her feet,” Gonzales says.

This is the experience she cites as sparking her interest in a medical career. A doctor’s most basic job description is, after all, helping others.

After Gonzales’ grandmother recovered, her family moved to Whittier, California. She graduated from La Serna High School and then earned a bachelor’s degree in human biology at Stanford University.

“After college, I took a few gap years to work,” she says. “I was a scribe at a hospital in Upland, and I also did SAT tutoring.”

These jobs enabled Gonzales to save up for medical school at UCI, where she is now a third-year student planning to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.

“With OB-GYN, you’re able to connect with people in a very personal way very quickly,” she says. “On top of that, it’s also a very dynamic and usually happy field that lets you perform procedures and surgery while helping women – and when you help women, you often help the whole family.”

Besides her studies, Gonzales is heavily involved with UCI’s Ultrasound Student Interest Group, which every year hosts UltraFest, a free ultrasound symposium for medical students. She also participates in outreach programs and volunteer clinical opportunities offered by the medical school.

Gonzales went to Panama the summer after her first year to test the Rural Obstetrical Ultrasound Triage Exam developed by Dr. Jonathan Steller, then in residency at UCI Medical Center. “It was amazing,” she says. “The idea was that if we – as entry-level healthcare workers – could reliably use point-of-care ultrasound, then others with minimal training could be expected to learn as well. Over there, being pregnant can be very scary without the modern technology we have.”

She also works with underserved youth in Long Beach through the campus’s Doctors for Diversity group and is active in the university’s chapter of the American Medical Women’s Association.

“I’m one of the AMWA UCI co-presidents,” Gonzales says. “We put on little events to meet other women in medicine and network that way.”

All of this involvement may not have been possible without the generous scholarship she got.

“In 2008, the recession hit my family pretty hard,” she says. “Luckily, I was able to get a substantial amount of financial aid for my undergraduate degree, but med school has been on my own.”

Last year, Gonzales received the $5,000 Christopher and Mehrangiz Lundquist Medical Education Award from Dr. Christopher Lundquist, an active UCI School of Medicine alumnus and patron.

“Having sticker shock every quarter, it’s comforting to know that the school and the Lundquist Award are supporting me,” she says. “When I was applying, I knew med school would be hard, so having support around me is huge.”