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How I Beat the Odds

By Dr. Anthony Ramos-Yataco

I was born in Peru in a small town called Nasca. Peru is a beautiful country with lots of natural resources and wonderful people, but disparities in its society are obvious and tangible. I felt them firsthand as a child born into a low-income family. We struggled financially, and I never had much growing up, but the one thing I never lacked was motivation. I wanted to work hard to build a better future for myself than my parents could have ever imagined.

I figured out where I wanted to focus my hard work when I was 7. I got sick and needed pediatric care, but there was no pediatrician in my hometown; the closest one was three hours away. We had to wake up at 3 a.m. to take the bus so we could make the appointment on time. That is when I understood that health is a privilege and that socially disadvantaged communities and individuals lack access to it. I told myself that when I got older, I needed to do something to address health inequities in vulnerable populations like the one I was born into. I needed to become a doctor.

To accomplish this goal, I had to excel in every aspect of my education. At the time, especially as I was still so young, it frustrated me that I had to study so hard to achieve this goal. As a result of my stellar academic performance, I won a scholarship to attend a prestigious high school in Lima, the capital of Peru, seven hours from my home. I had to leave home at age 11 to receive this high-quality education that otherwise my family would not have been able to afford.

Picture taken while I was studying as a kid

Attending high school so young, far from home, was one of the most difficult periods of my life. I had to live with my 14-year-old brother, take care of my own meals, and commute across the city to get to my school. I needed my parents, but I didn’t say anything to them because I knew they were working hard to provide financial support for both of us. I had to stay strong and persevere because otherwise, all our sacrifices would have been for nothing. On top of taking care of myself at age 11, I had to perform well in school to maintain my scholarship. It was painful and challenging, and I would not want to go through that again, but without those experiences, I would not be where I am now. I became a better version of myself. Looking back on my life, I see that those were the moments that made me the determined and resilient individual I am now.

Medical mission in Indigenous communities along the Amazon River

And it all paid off. After a rigorous entrance exam, I got into medical school when I was only 16 years old. I couldn’t believe it—I finally did it! Because I got into medicine to make a difference, throughout my schooling, I took every opportunity to work with aid organizations to provide medical care for indigenous people along the Amazon River, who were some of the most socially and economically vulnerable populations in the region. When I finished medical school, I realized I needed to grow professionally and expand my horizons. So, I began my journey to U.S. medical residency while serving as a primary care physician in the Peruvian Andes as part of my rural governmental service. I invested two years of my life to prepare everything I needed to apply and successfully match—taking the exams, having U.S. clinical experiences (USCE), and becoming proficient enough in English to ace my interviews. Again, my hard work and dedication paid off. I matched in Internal Medicine at my first choice, the University of Miami/Jackson Health System. I am now in the United States in my first year of training. Having experienced the USMLE journey myself, I am eager to help my fellow IMGs succeed on this path.

Working as an internal medicine resident far from home is difficult, but I’ve been through similar challenges before and know that I can handle it. I am grateful to be in a program where I feel appreciated and where it doesn’t matter where you come from; the only thing that matters is working together to provide the best care possible for our patients, who come from underserved communities in Miami. I feel like I am making a difference, and I get to positively impact my patients’ lives. I can now proudly say that I exemplify someone who has sacrificed significantly to have a better future. I bring important perspective and valuable qualities to the medical field: resilience, diversity, and my deep understanding of the challenges low-income families face accessing high-quality health care.

This is my dream, and I am fortunate enough to be able to experience it. My advice is this: Do not give up, and always keep working hard. For everyone who have may have started out life just like me, remember—the odds can be beaten.

I am writing this story as a first-year internal medicine resident at the University of Miami/Jackson Health System.

My sincere gratitude to the following for their unconditional support:

  • My parents and brother—Rosa Yataco, Simon Ramos, and Jordy Ramos-Yataco
  • My program director, Stefanie R. Brown
  • My associate program directors and my chief residents