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To future "students in my shoes"

To future

Raquel Arias, MD, has some big titles. Associate Professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Keck School of Medicine and Clinical Associate Professor of Gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School. Growing up in the San Joaquin Valley, she had no idea she might become a doctor.

When she was in high school, Arias' favorite teacher, Mrs. Neal, became a mentor to her. Mrs. Neal gave her an application to attend UC Santa Cruz and later on reminded her to fill it out.

"I'd put it in the spoon and knife drawer in the kitchen," Arias says. "If she hadn't asked about it, I don't know what would have happened."

She filled out the application in pencil so she could correct errors, sent it in, and forgot about it. Then the acceptance package arrived. It was the beginning of the path that led to her medical career.

"Of all the acceptances I got in my life, that was probably the crucial one," Arias says. "Nothing else would have happened without it."

Another mentor

At UC Santa Cruz, she met another mentor who would prove pivotal, Roberto Rubalcava, who at the time was director of the Educational Opportunity Programs. Following his example, she spoke at high schools about her university experience, working to encourage more underrepresented minority students to apply.

"Roberto Rubalcava was one of the great orators," Arias says. "He could make you laugh; he could make you cry. I realized that if I were going to make a difference, I would have to learn to speak to people in that way."

Arias had thought she might become a teacher. She majored in psychology, but based on Rubalcava's guidance - "you need to become a professor, a doctor, or a lawyer" - Arias pursued medicine.

She studied Public Health at UC Berkeley, and then received her MD at the University of Southern California. The cost of medical school was "mind-numbing," she says, so Arias enrolled in the National Health Service Corps, which pays for medical school tuition for doctors who commit to work in hospitals serving low-income communities. Her Ob/Gyn career began in Merced Community Medical Center, the very hospital where her mother was born.

Her internship and residency had been at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, where just about all her patients had been Mexican American yet very few of those who cared for them spoke Spanish. She was the only Mexican American woman in her med school class. She's worked since then to support Latinos in medicine.

Advocating for Latino doctors

She joined the La Raza Medical Association. The group began in the 1970s dedicated to recruiting Latinos into the field.

"Our best bet to improve access to care for under-served people is to recruit from their communities," she says.

She has continued to speak to students around the state, encouraging those who might not have considered becoming doctors to pursue medical careers. She has trained hundreds of doctors - "I guess I became a teacher after all" - emulating the examples of her own life-changing mentors.

With a new planned gift, she hopes to continue changing young lives. Arias added UCSC's Educational Opportunity Program to her will. When realized, the gift will enable EOP to grow its staff or provide assistance to ensure academic success for first-generation students and those from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.

"I hope when I'm gone that the money that will go to people who are in the shoes I was in in 1973," she says. "I want UCSC to continue to recruit and nurture students who might fall through the cracks. I am proud of my school and I know they will continue the work that has brought so many of us to where we can do the greatest good."

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