Diana Hanif Garces has always had a passion for helping people in need, but something a bit more complex set her on the path to medical school.
"My passion was ignited by the multifaceted aspect of the medical field," she said. "Not only are you using your scientific knowledge to help your patient, but you're also building doctor-patient relationships through compassion and empathy."
She chose to enroll at Drexel University College of Medicine because of the opportunities it offered to complement and enhance her medical education by participating in health outreach and community service. She was drawn, as well, to the health advocacy curriculum.
Hanif Garces studied health sciences as an undergraduate, exploring both biology through courses in pathology and anatomy, and public health. She enjoyed delving into her chosen field, but as the first person in her family to attend college, she didn't have the same help navigating secondary education as many of her peers.
Instead, she relied on peers, academic advisors and online advice threads for guidance. Now, Hanif Garces helps coordinate the mentorship program for Drexel University College of Medicine's First Generation Student Organization, a new student group that allows first-generation students to connect and help one another.
"The belief that I've held near and dear to my heart is never forgetting where I came from, which really inspired me to be involved in the club," she said. "I want to help other first-gen students, because I know the obstacles I've overcome to get to where I am today."
Her advice for first-generation medical school applicants is grounded in her own experience.
"My advice for students is to not compare themselves to or be intimidated by their peers who have family members that have helped them navigate the education system," Hanif Garces said. "And to really take pride in the fact that they've gotten themselves to the position where they are today in applying to medical school, because it is a major accomplishment in itself. I'd also say to never be afraid to ask for help."
After earning her bachelor's degree, Hanif Garces waited two years to enroll in medical school. She joined Americorps, serving for a year coordinating community health and advocacy activities for The Florida Hospital, and then going on to teach high school biology.
"In my first year as a volunteer, I learned the importance in being on the frontlines of addressing health disparities and the role that they play in the quality of health care different individuals receive," she said. "And teaching helped me cultivate a deep sense of patience and understanding for others that I think is so necessary for a physician."
Now, Hanif Garces serves the College of Medicine community as the co-president of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), as well as a student admissions ambassador and orientation leader.
Through LMSA, Hanif Garces has engaged in professional development on health policy, and assisted in putting on a community health fair. She said she is grateful for the opportunity to advocate for underserved patients while she studies for her MD. Just like serving through Americorps, these extracurricular activities allow Hanif Garces to help patients who might typically face barriers to health care.
"These experiences have impacted my DUCOM experience in such positive ways," she said. "They've reaffirmed the belief that Drexel has something for everybody and embraces diversity rather than turning away from it."
At present, the First Generation Student Organization is matching first- and second-year medical students for mentoring. Students seeking a mentor, or looking to get involved as mentors or club members, can contact the organization's leaders on Instagram at @ducomfirstgen.