Moving toward a medical career

Mar. 08, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

Some high school seniors may be only just now starting to think about college. But at least one underclassman is several steps ahead, aspiring to attend medical school.

Gilberto Hernandez, a freshman at Western Harnett High School, wants to study microbiology and possibly psychology. He reaffirmed his love of science last month, representing North Carolina at the Congress of Future Medical Leaders in Washington, D.C.

“As a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut,” the 14-year-old said. “And the older I got, the more interested I was in in studying the mind. ... [Now] I want to be a microbiologist, personally. And the psychology ties in to diseases people are born with, like autism.”

Hernandez, who grew up in Sanford and attended Deep River Elementary School and West Lee Middle School before moving to Harnett County, had never been to anything like this three-day conference in a big city. So he said he was a little uncertain when he first showed up in the nation’s capital and found himself surrounded by several hundred other motivated high school students — not to mention some of the brightest medical minds in America, from young rising-star scientists to established thinkers, including multiple Nobel Prize winners.

But he quickly made some friends and said he’s glad he got to hear the talks from medical professionals, as well as patients who benefited from scientific advances. He was particularly inspired by two women who spoke about their miraculous comebacks — one who was paralyzed after a car accident but learned to walk again, and another who successfully received a rare face transplant after suffering extensive burns.

His mom, Nora Chavez, wrote that she was glad her son got to “hear Nobel laureates and National Medal of Science winners talk about leading medical research [and] be given advice from Ivy League and top medical school deans on what is expected in medical school.”

Hernandez said he’s already used to high expectations from his parents, and especially his dad who works in construction and travels frequently.

“He pushes me a little more because he’s gone for a lot of the week,” Hernandez said. “So when he gets back, he tells me to study so I don’t have to work as hard as he does now or when he was in Mexico.”

His mother accompanied him on the D.C. trip, although she said her son made sure that she was enjoying herself and not cooped up in the academic conferences.

“I was there for five minutes and then he said, ‘Mom, this is for people who want to be doctors. You don’t want to be a doctor. Go explore the city,’” Chavez said.

But it was the conference that Hernandez was there for — not the sightseeing.

People who were chosen to attend are able to apply for scholarships to use if they do end up going to medical school in the future. But Hernandez said the chance to make connections and get inspired was valuable as well, and he’s hoping to attend similar events in the future.