Giving back to the Spanish-speaking community through medicine

August 12, 2021

Recent ASU graduate and Phoenix native Alejandro Lopez is using his degree to give back to his community. Lopez, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in health science in May 2021, worked to incorporate the Spanish language into his studies so that he could help members of Spanish-speaking communities feel more comfortable seeking medical help and advice. 

Lopez has already spent much of his time at ASU as a leader and mentor in his community. Since his first year, Lopez has been a part of the TRIO program and has worked as a tutor since his sophomore year. TRIO is a set of federally funded programs to support students with disabilities, veterans and students who are low-income or first-generation college students. 

Portrait of Alejandro Lopez in his TRIO stole in front of the fountain at Old Main on ASU's Tempe campus

ASU grad Alejandro Lopez

“I didn’t know anything about TRIO. I was exploring the MyASU page and a TRIO ad popped up so I clicked it. I was reading about what they do and the communities they serve and I felt like I fit into that profile,” Lopez said. “I fell in love with what all the tutors were doing. They were changing people's perspectives about college and giving them hope, and that's what I wanted to do as well.”

As a junior, Lopez was promoted to lead tutor, and he was able to take on a bigger leadership role within the program to help other first-generation college students succeed. Lopez was also able to find his own support system in the program and build his community. 

“I came into college not having anyone and not knowing anyone who also went to college. Starting my first classes, I felt that I didn’t fit in due to my cultural background, but once I got to meet people who were from the same culture and the same background, I got more comfortable and I didn’t feel alone,” Lopez said.

Another way the TRIO program impacted Lopez was by providing him with opportunities to develop more as a professional. In addition to helping him take on a leadership role as a tutor, the TRIO program offered workshops and conferences where Lopez was able to learn and grow. 

“Coming into college, I felt that I wasn’t really prepared and as a first-generation [student], I didn't really have anyone to guide me or give me advice, and then TRIO was there,” Lopez said. “It got me out of my shell. I wasn’t a very talkative person.”

In addition to his involvement with TRIO, Lopez was actively involved in other facets of the ASU community throughout his college career. He participated in social and professional organizations such as the Running Club and the Pre-Physician's Assistant Club, where he worked as volunteer coordinator. Lopez is also part of the President Barack Obama Scholars Program.

As Lopez wrapped up his time at ASU, he reflected on his experience and shared advice for other Sun Devils. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: It wasn’t until I specifically started taking Spanish courses. My first two years, I didn't know what I was doing. I knew I was taking these classes, I knew there were requirements to go either into medical school or PA school. I noticed that I was able to choose a category where I can actually go into and not just take science courses. 

I decided to do Spanish because that's the community I want to go into someday, and I might as well learn a bit of the background and become a little bit more acquainted with the grammar because I already speak it. After taking my first two or three Spanish courses, my “aha” moment was just realizing that I can go into medicine and specialize in Spanish. I’m trying to help out the community with the language barriers and just helping them feel more comfortable.  

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: You’re not always going to get a professor who actually likes you. There are always going to be the ones who are going to be against you. You have to get out of your comfort zone and do the work yourself. It’s one of those challenges that I had to fight at ASU. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: In high school, I wasn’t really sure that I was going to be accepted into college. I didn’t know what I was going to do; I just knew I was going to go to a community college just like the rest of my friends. One of my counselors pushed me and said “you have the grades, you can apply.” 

I didn't see myself going to university at first; I just wanted to go to community college and take my time. After applying and getting accepted at ASU, I thought I might as well because it's close to home. I didn’t see any bad reviews, my counselor said it was a good school if I could focus on my studies and find my own support group like I did in high school. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The professor who taught me the most would have to be my organic chemistry professor. Even though it's a class requirement in order to apply to medical or PA school, he makes you work for the grade and he wants you to actually understand the subject, not just memorize it. 

He specifically gave an example about why he is rigorous in the class and it gave me an “aha” moment that maybe I should start learning the material instead of just memorizing it. 

He went to the hospital and was being treated by a doctor, and what the doctor didn’t know was that he was a chemistry professor. The doctor gave him more than what he needed of the medication, and it actually could have killed him. It makes sense: You actually have to learn the material and actually apply it in the field and know what you’re doing instead of just memorizing the information. This was a big moment that I realized I can actually use this information instead of just using it to pass an exam. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: My advice would be to make sure to prioritize your mental health and also don't be afraid to ask for help, because that's the one main thing that I didn't do. I come from a Hispanic culture that kind of looks down upon you if you're asking for help, especially males are a little bit machista [showing machismo] in a way and it kind of devours ego or self esteem. 

You have to break down those barriers and get out of your comfort zone. If I hadn’t gone to TRIO that often or had I not even known about that program, I feel like I wouldn’t be here right now graduating. Make sure you’re prioritizing mental health, because it's the most important thing going into college. It made me realize that I love exercising, and now it's part of my daily routine. I can’t go a day without it. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: It would have to be the gym or outside the Post Office, because that’s where most activities were downtown. You get to meet new people and people watch. You can get out of your head a little bit. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: At the moment, I am also working to get my certification to be an EMT. After getting that, I’m thinking of taking a gap year to gain some health care experience from either the fire station perspective or ambulance perspective of health care. Then after that, I will be studying for the GRE and applying for PA school at the NAU campus downtown. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: It would have to be helping those people who are either undocumented or DACA get more education. I personally have some friends who have the intelligence and have the motivation to continue, but the money aspect of going to college is a barrier. So I would either start a program or find a way to financially help them reach their goals.