NEWS: JUAN CARLOS PELAYO
little mentoring leads to medical degree
Juan Carlos Pelayo enrolled in Mission College in 1996,
all he wanted to do was take and pass a physiology class.
If he did, he might be able to move up from his job as a licensed
vocational nurse to a more secure and better-paying job as
a registered nurse.
could not have imagined then that, eight years later, he would
be on the verge of graduating from the prestigious UC San
Francisco School of Medicine with a career as a surgeon before
Carlos Pelayo during rotations at UCSF School of
his experience at Mission College and several instructors
with helping him realize his potential.
was a horrible high school student, not really very focused,"
he recalled. "I think the idea of being a doctor was
maybe somewhere in the back of my mind, but it just seemed
cant emphasize enough the importance of mentors,"
At Mission College, he found mentors aplenty!
much more realistic goal after high school, he thought, was
to go to occupational school and become an LVN. When he signed
up for Mike Reynolds physiology class at Mission College,
Pelayo saw it as a short-term step that would enhance his nursing
career. But Reynolds saw something else.
"He took a test for me," recalled Reynolds, "and
his answers were so superior, I pulled him aside and asked him
about his plans. He told me about his nursing goals, and I said
he should definitely aim higher at least a university
degree, for starters."
Pelayo took the advice to heart, partly because he discovered
a fascination with biology. Soon, his one-class deal with Mission
College evolved into a full scientific program that included
chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Two years after enrolling,
he earned an Associates degree in biology and transferred
to California State University, Northridge, where he earned
a Bachelor of Science degree in molecular biology in 2001. He
was admitted to a slew of medical schools, including his first
Sitting now in a student housing apartment in the Twin Peaks
area of San Francisco, cradling his six-month-old son Alejandro,
Pelayo still has deep feelings for Mission College.
"I cant emphasize enough the importance of mentors
and role models," he said. "I didnt really have
any in high school. My parents hardly had any schooling in Mexico
so they were happy just to see me graduate from high school.
They couldnt really advise me about college."
At Mission, he found mentors aplenty in instructors Maria Fenyes,
Reynolds, Bob Smazenka, and Richard Rains, whom he describes
as demanding teachers but also individuals who counseled him
to look to bigger goals beyond the classroom.
Pelayo has just embarked on the complicated, often tense process
of applying for a residency. His preferred location is California.
In fact, he would like to remain in the Bay Area, where wife
Marisol Luna (also a former Mission College student) is a nurse
at San Francisco General Hospital. His preferred specialization
is surgery general at first but perhaps leading to more
specialized surgery that involves bio-research, such as transplant
or vascular surgery.
Pelayo believes high school students should try to go directly
to university "
if theyre ready and if they
have family support." In truth, many are not ready, either
academically or socially for lack of maturity.
"If you need time to figure things out, including who you
are and what you want from college, then a community college
is the best way to go," he said.
This is the advice that Pelayo gave to Bay Area middle and high
school students as part of an educational outreach program that
he was part of during his first two years of medical school.
He would take anatomic models (heart, lungs, brain, etc.) and
explain their functions to the students. The bigger goal, he
said, was to counter the under-representation of minorities
in medicine and interest young students in the field.
Pelayo may never know if he turned any of those students toward
medicine, but its possible. After all, hed be the
first to tell you that a little mentoring can go a long way
toward changing someones life.
BY EDUARDO PARDO