It doesn’t take long to figure out that first-year P&S student Aury Garcia feels a strong connection to Washington Heights—the medical school’s neighborhood and the one she grew up in.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Aury moved to New York’s Washington Heights area with her family when she was 5. “I’ve lived here most of my life, so I’ve really seen the lack of resources in the public schools and need for social-support services,” she says. Over the years she started becoming more and more aware of the health disparities among the neighborhood’s diverse populations, which sparked her interest in medicine.
When she was a senior in high school, Ms. Garcia volunteered at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “That’s where I really began to see some of the illnesses that affect this community,” she recalls. “It was my interactions with patients in the internal medicine unit that cemented my interest in medicine. Seeing the need for Spanish-speaking doctors and the need to address chronic illnesses in the area’s populations helped me make the decision to become a doctor.”
“Columbia has been my dream school my entire life, even for undergrad,” Ms. Garcia says. “It’s an amazing school, and it’s in my backyard!” Ms. Garcia is the first person in her immediate family to graduate from college. She attended Columbia College with a scholarship from the Dyckman Institute, which supports Columbia students from the medical center’s neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Inwood. She majored in psychology and is the first Dyckman Scholar to attend P&S.
In addition to being a newlywed—she and her husband married in March—Ms. Garcia says the biggest difference between college and medical school is the amount of work involved. “Columbia College was challenging, but you had time to study all the material,” she says. “Here, it’s a bit more hectic. My professor joked that we did all of cell biology in 10 days, and that’s a class you’re supposed to do in a semester. So for me, it’s the adjustment to the amount of material coming at you. I always want to be ahead of the curve, I want to make sure I’m reading ahead, but in med school it seems impossible to be caught up on everything.”
Though she just started school, Ms. Garcia already knows where she will be in five years: graduating with a dual degree. In addition to a medical degree, she plans on getting a master’s in public health to gain a better understanding of the disparities in her community and the education programs and outreach initiatives available to help people lead healthy lives. “I’m excited about being able to give back to the patients,” she says. “I feel like it’s a privilege for me to be here and to be able to take care of people.”
But for now, what she is looking forward to most at P&S is the moment she gets to see patients. “When I think about seeing patients it makes it a little bit easier to get through the workload,” she says. “That’s what I’m focusing on.”