ASU student gains confidence, passion for medicine

ASU School of Letters and Sciences alum Jesus Hernandez in cafe

Screenwriters call it “the inciting incident” – that sudden external event that knocks the protagonist’s life completely off-kilter, requiring a quest to find new meaning and stability.

Looking back on his own life’s journey, recent ASU graduate Jesus “Jesse” Hernandez says that his father’s diagnosis and life-ending battle with cancer was the sharp jolt that set him on the path to a career in medicine.

“In my mind there’s definitely a dividing line between my life before that time and what has come after,” Hernandez explains.

“At the time my father got sick, I was fairly new to Arizona from California, and was working while my wife, Karina, was going to school full-time,” he says. “I really hadn’t yet found my passion in life.

“My dad had only recently retired after 35 years of laborious construction work as a cement mason. He’d always volunteered through church and was known for his big heart and willingness to help someone in need. And then cancer? I was having a hard time putting it all together from a religious perspective,” Hernandez reflects.

As an only child, Jesse actively supported his mother in seeing his father through care and treatment in Arizona and California.

“During my dad’s illness, I wanted to understand more about the biology behind what was going on, of course. But I also was very struck by the care and compassion that we saw from medical professionals under such unfortunate circumstances,” he says.

“I came out of that experience feeling that if I could help someone else by applying my skills in the medical field, I’d be doing a service to my father and his memory.”

After doing a year of pre-health coursework at Rio Salado College, Hernandez transferred to Arizona State University, deciding to complete the School of Letters and Sciences’ applied biological sciences degree, based on the ASU Polytechnic campus.

“The more I studied physiology and anatomy, the more I was drawn in, wanting to know more about the amazing ways our bodies heal themselves,” says Hernandez, who admits watching Medical Board prep videos with as much intensity and enjoyment as others might their favorite Netflix series.

He describes the foundational knowledge he received at the Polytechnic campus as second-to-none, and the professors to be supportive, across the board. “From Dr. Huffman, who let me get involved in some of her research and pointed me to volunteer work at a youth center, to Dr. Oberstein’s terrific advanced anatomy class, to Dr. Ulrich, whose statistics class turned a non-math-lover into a big fan,” Herdandez recalls.

“The camaraderie with like-minded students also made my three years at ASU something special,” he notes.

With fellow Polytechnic campus students Brad Pico (a history major now in dental school in Colorado) and David Hamblin (an applied biological sciences major), Hernandez co-founded a pre-med club on the campus.

“We wanted to join forces in preparing for exams, finding ways to volunteer in the community, bringing in guest speakers, and remembering to socialize and balance school and family life,” he says. “We were always pushing each other, but also celebrating each other’s accomplishments. It can be easy to lose sight of your goals sometimes and keep the motivation going.”

Hernandez graduated summa cum laude in May 2014 with a GPA of 3.96, and took the MCAT exams later that month.

He hopes to stay in Arizona for his medical training but has also applied to schools in California, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Washington. Medical school decisions could begin coming along in early fall – about the same time that he and Karina will be spending some happy time in a hospital. The couple is expecting their first child in October, a son.

In his medical training, Hernandez plans to focus on family practice or internal medicine, where he can enjoy high contact with patients “and can really get to know [them] and develop personal relationships.”

He and Karina, who is now a registered nurse in a progressive care unit serving individuals with severe health issues, have talked about one day going to under-served areas or countries to practice.

“At some fundamental level, I think we’re all responsible for each other as human beings,” observes Hernandez about his deepest motivations for pursuing medicine. “We need to do more to be more caring for each other.”