Achieving Academic Goals for a Career in Health Care

Post-Bacc Health alumnus Jesus Mejia will attend Tufts University School of Medicine, Class of 2025

Jesus Mejia’s medical career dreams are built on the relationships that he has made. From volunteering at a pediatric hospital in his hometown in Missouri, to participating in the student medical association for minorities in college, to connecting with our Post-Baccalaureate Health Professions Program staff, Jesus’ path to medical school continues to widen with possibilities.

In high school, he volunteered with the local Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital after developing an interest in medicine but not yet sure if that was a potential career.

“I decided that the best way to expand my understanding would be by volunteering in health care,” he remembers. “I worked closely with pediatric patients. During my time at Ranken Jordan, there was a patient who was admitted after a brain tumor removal. In the following months, I watched him regain his eyesight and speech. It was a long process, but every step of his recovery inspired me. I wasn’t sure which avenue of medicine I would pursue, but I knew I wanted to have a positive impact in the world and become part of a team to improve people’s lives.

“My volunteer experience at Ranken Jordan confirmed my interest in medicine as a career.”

Growing up in a working-class immigrant family, Jesus wanted to stay local after graduating from high school and so attended Saint Louis University (SLU). The school’s financial aid package made college a more affordable possibility. “Being close to home mattered to me because I was a first-generation college student and I would have my family and support network nearby,” he recalls.

Jesus majored in biology to support his aspirations of applying to medical school.

The Role Mentoring Has Played

Jesus not only was studying hard at SLU, but he was also actively involved in his local and school communities.

“During my freshman year, I joined the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS),” he says. “I connected with both minority physicians and medical students who provided ways to discuss topics in medicine, such as cultural competency, as well as attend events where they shared their respective journeys to medicine.

“As the son of Mexican immigrants, these discussions gave me hope and a stronger desire to become a physician-advocate. The deeper understanding of the social issues tied to health care served as a catalyst for my desire to help underserved communities.”

Jesus’ extracurricular activities also included the Muslim Student Association and Middle Eastern Student Association at the university and volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

“By that point, I had already seen the importance of having a mentor and I wanted to give back by serving as a mentor,” Jesus relates.

“In the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, I was matched and served as a mentor to my little brother, ‘John,’” he continues. “We met one-on-one for weekly outings; we would talk about school, and he would often share the hardships that he faced. As a fellow first-generation student, I always did my best to support him, letting him know that I was someone that he could count on.

“Through the program, I realized that becoming a mentor was something I wanted to do as a medical student and physician.” 

Jobs to Bolster a Medical Career

During his college years, Jesus held lab assistant and medical scribe roles to fully understand the different aspects of a career in medicine.

“As a biology department lab assistant, I prepped labs for the lab classes. This meant getting supplies, preparing media and solutions, and maintaining the labs. I saw it as a way to familiarize myself with the department and the way labs are run,” he explains.

Later, in his senior year, Jesus also became an emergency department medical scribe through ScribeAmerica.

“It was an invaluable experience, and I would recommend it to anyone applying to medical school,” he says. “I learned medical terminology, observed treatments of all sorts of illnesses and gained some inspirational role models.”

But even after graduating from Saint Louis University in 2018 with his degree in biology and all of this relevant experience, Jesus didn’t feel ready to apply to medical school. Looking for preparation advice, he found our Post-Baccalaureate Health Professions Program.

Ready to Branch Out

“I wasn’t ready to apply to medical school—I didn’t think my grades were up to par, and I felt like I needed guidance to prepare my application,” Jesus admits.

“I started searching for post-bacc programs and stumbled upon the Post-Bacc Health Professions Program,” he continues. “At the time, I was also considering whether to apply to medical schools in California.

“UC Berkeley Extension offered the rigor and selection of science classes that mattered to me, as well as the flexibility to take classes while working full time as a QC analyst at Grifols.”

The program fulfilled Jesus’ expectations.

“My experience in the post-bacc was great!” he enthuses.

“My favorite classes were Hematology with Dr. Chuanyi Mark Lu and Medical Microbiology with Dr. Maria Magsaysay. The material covered in these classes was like a sneak-peek into medical school, and it kept me motivated to succeed. I also really enjoyed having Dr. Lu and Dr. Magsaysay as instructors—they were very personable and wanted to get to know their students.”

He extends the kudos to his fellow students. “My interactions with my classmates were always great! Everyone was motivated, collaborative and very down to earth. Sharing study guides or meeting up to study together, I felt that everyone was rooting for each other’s success. I made many friends with whom I still keep in touch.”

Program accolades do not end with what was gained in the courses. Our staff also exceeded expectations.

Tiffani Quan, Joe Balabis and all of my instructors were genuinely interested in the students and their success.

“Joe, who had been my academic advisor, guided me on which classes I should take based on my goals and reassured me that medical school was still a very real possibility,” Jesus says. “He was very candid about what I would need to do and was always available if I had any questions or decisions I needed to make. Tiffani, the program director, kept tabs on me while I was applying and offered to help every step of the way.”

Completing the program before the pandemic began, Jesus still had discussions with staff during 2020 as he decided whether or not he needed to take more courses or focus on studying for the MCAT. “Ultimately, we decided to focus on the MCAT.”

We. This is just another example of how important building relationships has been in Jesus’ medical career path.

“I look at UC Berkeley Extension as my second chance to reach medical school. This program gave me the chance to show that I could handle the content and academic rigor. It also prepared me to take the MCAT and gave me the support I needed to reach my goal. When I graduated college, I was feeling discouraged and unsure about the timeline and application process for medical school.

“I would recommend applying for the Post-Bacc Health Professions Program to anyone who needs guidance through the process, whether from an academic improvement standpoint or a career change.”

From One Coast to the Other

“The Post-Bacc Health Professions Program helped me improve my grades and make my application more well-rounded,” he commends.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the statistics of matriculant GPA and MCAT scores, but it’s also important to remember that there are other factors that you need to take into account. Joe helped me figure out what types of activities would be good to bolster my application, and we also strategized about which schools I would apply to. I applied to 20 schools and was accepted into three.”

It is Tufts University School of Medicine that spoke to Jesus’ medical career goals. And Boston’s urban environment will allow him to also volunteer his mentoring skills where they count most.

“I’m excited to be a part of the Class of 2025,” he says.

“Coming from a Mexican immigrant family, my main career goal is to work with underserved populations. In Boston, I plan to volunteer at a free clinic, as well as organize events to help provide resources and education to the public.

“As far as medical specialties go, I still need more exposure before deciding. I had an interest in pediatrics at one point, but I’m currently interested in neurosurgery. I had an uncle with a glioblastoma who passed away within a year of his diagnosis. I want to improve outcomes and quality of life for patients with these types of aggressive brain tumors. That said, I’m keeping an open mind and waiting to see what the future has in store for me.”