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DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: Future Doctor Without Borders

Fall 2020

From Madrid to Irvine, Sandra Rueda Fernandes joined an international program to study medicine at UCI

Growing up in Madrid, Sandra Rueda Fernandes dreamed of being a doctor. Caring and healing have been driving forces throughout her life, so there was never any question as to her career path — she couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Sandra also knows exactly where she wants to plant her roots. The only question is which specialty she’ll pursue. Sandra loves children, so she’s leaning toward pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, but that could easily change.

“It’s funny because when I was younger, I seriously considered being a military doctor, but in the end I couldn’t because I failed the height requirement. I’m too short,” she said, laughing. “My entire life, every time I came into a hospital for any reason, I’d find myself thinking, ‘I want to be here, I want to be that doctor, I want to put the scrubs on.’”

A second-year medical student at Universidad de Europea de Madrid, Sandra is working toward her dream of practicing medicine in the U.S., a dream that led her to UCI Division of Continuing Education to participate in a three-week, custom-designed program instructed by UCI Medical Center physicians, nursing staff, and research faculty.

The idea is to offer international students a U.S. perspective on various aspects of patient care, together with practical training on the Da Vinci surgical robot and other leading-edge technology. Students also get an authentic UCI student experience by living in campus dorms, eating in the dining hall and, of course, exploring shopping at The Hill and University Town Center.

For Sandra, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that brought her ultimate goal that much closer to reality.

“Both my father and I have great respect and admiration for the United States,” she said. “So, when I had the opportunity to participate in this program through my university, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I knew that it would be an enriching experience medically and a great opportunity to experience the university and its teachers. And I was right. I met wonderful people and awesome doctors.”

Although she’s laser-focused on a career in medicine, Sandra has a rich life outside of school. She loves to read and is a passionate writer, but her part-time job teaching children might well be her first love.

Sandra, who lives in Madrid with her father and beloved cat, found time to field questions about her journey so far and where the road ahead might lead.

Sounds like you aren’t quite settled on a specialty. What are some of the possibilities?

For now, I really would like to specialize in cardiothoracic surgery and focus on pediatric patients. I love to work with children, but emergency medicine is also a field that is very exciting — you never know what to expect. You get to work with a lot of different people, and you need to have extensive knowledge of each field of medicine.

In my opinion, you don’t have to fit only in one specialty or two. Doctors must develop many different capacities, from skill in surgery to empathy for other human beings. I have a long path in front of me to learn and you never know when you can fall in love with another medical specialty. So, I just continue learning.

Tell me about your experience in the UCI DCE custom-designed international program. What did you get out of it?

My UCI experience was nothing short of fantastic. The doctors and teachers focused on their own specialties, and it was so inspiring. You could tell they really love what they do. We had classes of all kinds, from medical ethics to the latest advances in artificial intelligence. I really looked forward to hearing from Dr. Alpesh Amin, who taught us about the healthcare, economic system, and specializations in the U.S. But my favorite part was when I had the opportunity to observe in a local clinic. The attending doctor was an incredible, generous person and an amazing doctor, the way he engaged with his patients and cared for them. Having him as a teacher and being able to see him work was priceless.

What was it like living in an American university dorm?

My experience was very pleasant. The dormitories were perfectly equipped, and an excellent staff took care of us. It was really a fun experience, a great opportunity to get to know your colleagues much better. I think it is something that anyone should experience at least once in their life.

Medical school is such a huge commitment in time and money. What inspires you to keep going?

If I have to choose anyone as an inspiration, it’s no doubt my father. Not because he’s a doctor — he’s a communications engineer — but because he always taught me to follow my dreams and fight for them. My dad has helped me a lot, and he continues doing so now. Each day, he works so hard to let me pursue my dream.

Tell me about your other inspirations in life.

I’d say that literature, philosophy, and psychology are my greatest hobbies. When I was younger, I opened an internet blog to write reflections I had on different aspects of life. And teaching is something that makes me very happy. The ability to transmit knowledge to others seems to me one of the great gifts of being human. I discovered that I have a special connection with those who have attention deficits, are very absent-minded or who generally find it more difficult to pass their subjects than the rest. I am very happy to see that the children I teach improve and achieve excellent results.