Alejandro Aviña-Cadena’s childhood memories might sound familiar to fellow children of immigrants. The L.A. native recalls translating for his Mexican-born parents at medical appointments and feeling self-conscious explaining their therapeutic use of herbs and topical ointments to doctors and nurses. At the time, it felt like an isolating experience. Later, he realized that it was shared by many first-generation Americans. This inspired Aviña-Cadena to pursue a career in public health and medicine. “I viewed the people in white coats as healers and role models,” he says.
The journey to public health advocacy and medical school wasn’t straightforward. Aviña-Cadena struggled in high school but gained confidence in community college. He transferred to UCI, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences. Shadowing doctors in the emergency department ignited his passion for public health. “A lot of societal failures are present in the ER,” Aviña-Cadena says. “I saw how things like food insecurity and not being able to afford medicine exacerbated chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Public health interventions can alleviate these inequalities.”
He used his public health training to create a curriculum on the social determinants of public health for the UCI School of Medicine. It requires practitioners to dig deeper into their patients’ health history and challenges to obtaining care. “Being a doctor and public health advocate aren’t mutually exclusive. You can do both,” Aviña-Cadena says. With a dual master’s in public health and medical degree from UCI, he’s well on his way to achieving this. This summer he starts his residency in emergency medicine at Boston Medical Center.
What is your favorite memory at UCI?
Walking around Ring Road drinking $2 boba.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Pursuing a post-residency fellowship at Harvard.
“Alejandro is the person who shows up and gives 100 percent (plus) to everything he commits to. Even when the task is tough, he sees it through. … Alejandro is going to change medicine; he’s going to be involved in the community; he’s going to be involved in the education of medical students, residents and faculty; he’s going to teach; and he’s going to mentor and make so many positive waves. He’s the person who will jump in with 100 percent – and do so with kindness, with grit and with all the positive energy.”
– Dr. Alisa Wray, assistant clinical professor of emergency medicine
Who was your biggest influence at UCI?
My mentors and the support system I have built here. I could not have made it to this point without them.
What do you know now that you wish you had known before coming to UCI?
Things will continue to challenge you, but you can’t stop working toward your dreams. It won’t always be easy, but you can do it as long as you don’t give up. Additionally, remember that life never stops. Don’t forget to live your life, and don’t wait to enjoy life until you finish school. Otherwise, your joy will always be on hold.
Do you have any hobbies or interests that you pursue in your free time?
Hiking, camping and backpacking.