Today's UHD Students, Tomorrow's Doctors
By Mark Kramer
Meet aspiring future physicians Maria Mendoza-Mora, Noelia Jimenez-Fuentes and Daniel Rivera. From their teenage years to the present day, the three University of Houston-Downtown students have all shared the same dreams of helping others through modern medicine.
Mora, a senior, along with juniors Fuentes and Rivera, are taking their first steps toward their educational journey into the medical field in August through a “career shadowing” opportunity provided by Dr. Carlos Moreno, an experienced Family Physician practicing at UT Physicians Family Medicine-Texas Medical Center.
Moreno, the C. Frank Webber, M.D. Chair of Family Medicine at UTHealth, is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and completed his residency at UTHealth San Antonio and an Academic Faculty Development Fellowship at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is also a past president of the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine and is a nationally recognized leader in his profession.
“I am excited to share what I have learned during my 40 years in medicine with these bright students,” Moreno said. “One of the most important values I was taught was the importance of giving a helping hand to those students wanting to enter medicine. I want to help them in any way that I can and hopefully inspire them as they pursue their future goals.”
A student suggestion and an opportunity
Mora and Fuentes represented the Greater Texas Foundation (GTF) Scholars at a Give to Gators promotional event this past year and visited with UHD President Dr. Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz. The students replied that they were both looking to pursue careers in medicine and were seeking for opportunities to observe or “shadow” physicians in the profession. Munoz then asked the university’s GTF Coordinator Branden Kuzmick to survey other scholars who were also contemplating futures in the medical field.
Kuzmick identified Mora, Fuentes and Rivera as eager and highly interested in the opportunity. Munoz referred the students to Dr. Moreno, who met with the students and offered them the opportunity to observe him during his workday beginning at the start of the fall semester.
“The students are extremely grateful for the opportunity to connect with a trusted and recognized leader in the field of medicine like Dr. Moreno,” Kuzmick said. “They are very enthusiastic about learning about medicine from such a respected role model.” Moreno is the chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.
The classroom: The doctor’s office
Mora, Fuentes and Rivera will observe Moreno as he sees patients at his family medicine office in the Texas Medical Center.
“They will be right there by my side when I am with the patient,” Moreno said. “At the end of the day, we will recap some of the things that they learned and I will answer any questions that they might have. I feel it is important for me to be available to them. It is vital to their learning process.”
The students may also be able to shadow several of Moreno’s fellow colleagues. “I feel that it’s important for them to see other doctors in action,” he said. “Many of them specialize in different areas and it will be a great learning experience for the students.”
Rivera, a junior, said he likes how Moreno believes in open lines of communication. “Dr. Moreno is very attentive and always willing to hear our questions and provide us with his experience through medical school and his current profession,” he said.
Pursuit of medicine is personal
Their stories are different, but real-life events shaped the student’s decisions to follow the path toward medical careers.
When Mora was in middle school, her grandfather was brought back to life during surgery after his heart stopped beating for 2-3 minutes. “When I heard about this, I became sure of what I wanted to do with my life,” she said. “I knew then that I wanted to become a doctor. I was inspired and grateful for the physicians that saved my grandfather’s life.”
As a high school student, Rivera was by his grandfather’s side during multiple hospital stays. “I would observe the work that the nurses would do as they were caring for him,” he said. “It captured my interest and I decided to volunteer at Kingwood Medical Center and observe many of the areas such as the CATH lab and radiology. Those experiences guided me to pursue a future in the medical field.”
A senior class project to raise funds for children facing cancer and survivors through The Snowdrop Foundation inspired Fuentes to consider a medical career. “I loved having the ability to help the children,” Fuentes said. “The work with this foundation made me realize that I could help so many people through a career in medicine and becoming a doctor one day.”
‘Love your patients’
Moreno has visited with Fuentes, Mora and Rivera, about the variety of experiences they will observe this semester. He also shared with them that he believes the most important quality they must possess to be a doctor is to have a heart for every patient.
“You must love your patients,” Moreno said. “That is one thing that I have emphasized to each of the students. While it is important to treat their condition, but it is even more important to let them know that you care about them.”
Mora said she understands that compassion will be vital to her future as a practicing physician. “It is amazing to see the bond and the relationships that Dr. Moreno has built with his patients,” she said. “I hope to build those same long-term patient relationships when I become a doctor.”
Preparing for the future
While the students are observing Moreno with his patients, they are also considering which areas of medicine they would like to pursue.
Fuentes plans to specialize is prenatal and postnatal care, while Mora is weighing her options of family medicine or becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon. Rivera is setting his sights on becoming a cardiovascular surgeon, but is also considering family medicine and forensics.
“During our time together, the students will learn that there are many options in medicine that they will discover,” Moreno said. “I encourage them to ask me questions and I will share my experiences with them in an effort to help them make better decisions about their future.”
Glad to provide a helping hand
Moreno feels a responsibility to be a role model to those who seek to pursue careers in medicine. He said serving as a mentor to Fuentes, Mora and Rivera is something he embraces.
“I was fortunate to have a great education, but I had to work extremely hard and it took a lot of grit and perseverance – and at times it wasn’t easy,” he said. “One of the things I promised myself was when I became successful, I would give a helping hand to students such as these UHD students who I will be working with.”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.