Growing Up to Be a Doctor

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Medical school student Cynthia Davila was inspired and mentored by her Kaiser Permanente pediatrician, Dr. Nora Garcia-Zepeda.

Since she was a little girl, Cynthia Davila wanted to be a doctor, and she looked up to Nora Garcia-Zepeda, MD, her pediatrician at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center.

Davila, now in medical school, just completed her summer clerkship at Kaiser Permanente Oakland in the Introduction to Integrated Healthcare (IIHC) program. When she completes medical school, Davila said she wants nothing more than to return to her hometown to serve the Oakland population and give back to her community.

Dr. Garcia-Zepeda has worked at Kaiser Permanente for more than 20 years and cares for her patients on both a physical and emotional level. In addition to asking her patients standard questions around care, she connects with children by asking them what they want to be when they grow up and what they think about higher education.

As a fellow Latina, Dr. Garcia-Zepeda shared her own career journey with Davila over the years. Dr. Garcia-Zepeda was also her mentor through high school and college, motivating and empowering her to reach her goals. Davila, born and raised in Oakland to teen parents, didn’t have much growing up, but she was very thankful to have a role model.

“Dr. Garcia-Zepeda has watched me grow and has been with me through all my milestones,” Davila said. “When I was doubting myself, she was supportive. It’s great to have a strong mentor in my life who knows how I grew up and how to deal with being underrepresented in a field.”

College, Medical School, and Beyond

After graduating from UCLA, Davila completed a Post-Baccalaureate program at Cal State East Bay that helped her prepare for medical school. In 2017, she started her first year at Michigan State University’s medical school, and then applied and was selected for the IIHC program at Kaiser Permanente. Davila described the program as perfect for her — and she completed her month-long clerkship through the program in June.

“The focus of IIHC is to promote culturally sensitive care, and the students who are selected have a deep-seated interest in this as part of their career goals,” said Andres Turner, MD, site director for the program in the East Bay. “Ideally, students learn about how our system and providers are delivering exceptional, person-centered care, in hopes that they consider Kaiser Permanente for residency training and beyond.”

Davila, who is bilingual, said her goal is to work for Kaiser Permanente.

“I grew up in the Kaiser system, and it would mean so much to me if I could go back to serve in a place like Oakland,” she said. “I want to give back to my community and work with underserved populations.”

Walking the Walk

In Davila’s first year of medical school, she worked in a Spanish-speaking clinic in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For her third- and fourth-year clerkships, she will be rotating between 2 to 3 clinics in Flint, Michigan.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know the Flint community, knowing what it’s been through — knowing they still don’t have safe water to drink and the amount of poverty there is there. I feel like working there will help me grow and have the largest impact in a community,” she said.

Nowadays, Davila and Dr. Garcia-Zepeda stay in touch every week despite the 2,300 miles separating them. Dr. Garcia-Zepeda also cares for Davila’s two little brothers.

“I’m so proud of and impressed by her; she is inspiring to me,” Dr. Garcia-Zepeda said. “It’s beautiful to see her actually fulfilling her dreams, and to have her come back to Kaiser is amazing.”

Discussion6 Comments

  1. Hermosa historia de Cynthia. Y qué gran gesto de su mentor, el Dr. García. Eso me recuerda a mi pequeña niña que también como Cynthia tiene su sueño de convertirse en doctora. Ella tiene apenas 12 años y está en séptimo grado, pero desde muy temprana edad también inspiró a su pediatra, la Dra. Asanova, aquí en el Valle de San Fernando.
    ¡El tiempo pasa rápido y espero que conozcas a personas geniales como el Dr. García y la Dr. Cynthia!
    Con cálidos saludos.

  2. Gracias, Dr. García, por ser un ejemplo e inspirar a nuestros niños a seguir sus sueños. Mi hija Asusena también dijo que quería ser doctora. Ella cambió de opinión, pero no sabía por qué. Este año se graduó de la escuela secundaria y comenzó mi primer año en Cal State University Chico, un lugar a 10 horas fuera de casa. Ahora ella quiere ser maestra. Ella se ha sentido un poco desanimada por lo que ellos llaman su nostalgia (casa enferma), me gustaría mucho encontrar a la persona que la alentará e inspirará a seguir adelante. Alguien como la Dra. Grace☺

  3. Love this! Underprivileged youth need mentors- someone to encourage them and show them the way. I was one, too, and had a nurse who took me under her wing. I’m an RN now 🙂

  4. I LOVE this story so much!!! How awesome is this!! It just shows you the impact you can have on someone’s life if you are intentional about it. Great job the both of you!!

    • What an amazing story. I have known Dr. Garcia for a little over a decade and she is great. Thanks for sharing the story.

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