1. Tell us about yourself. I, Magaly Cabrera-Ortiz, am the proud daughter of naturalized citizens from El Salvador and Peru. Aside from my parents, I have two brothers and am the middle child. When I am not studying, I can be found working out at the gym or actively involved with sports including soccer (intramural, women, and coed team), lacrosse, boxing, cross country, etc. I used to swim, do gymnastics, and play the piano. I can still play the violin as I have played from preschool to high school/early college. I enjoy being outdoors and spending quality time with my family and dog. I have been volunteering at Inova Fairfax Hospital since senior year of high school from the gift shops, patient support services, to pediatrics (current). I am a translator and am also responsible for medical intake at the Arlington Free Clinic. I enjoy mentoring younger students with college preparation and navigating being a pre-professional health student. I work on an occasional basis as a babysitter or nanny, pet sitter, and do side jobs with my brother (lawn mowing, snow shoveling, yard work, etc). Aside from being self-employed, this is my second year at a high school where I work with high school students in developing college and life skills through AVID (Advanced Via Individual Determination) program.
While I am currently attending George Mason University, my journey began at James Madison University. As a transfer student, I have had the opportunity to expand my horizons, interact with different students, and seek different opportunities. Chemistry has been a challenging subject for me. At my first institution, I remember how frustrated I would get because I would put the time in to do the homework, understand the information, and attend lectures and review sessions. Through each frustration, I would call home and remember the countless times I was about to give up being pre-med and switch majors. However, I am thankful for a strong family support system, having volunteered at the hospital, and meeting mentors. Through my family and mentors, they continued encouraging and believing in me when I could not. Through volunteering at the hospital and travelling to the homeland of my parents, I found the motivation with why I want to become a doctor. These factors are what I remind myself with if I am ever questioning my decision to help me refocus.
At my current institution (GMU), I am majoring in Community Health with a concentration in Clinical Science (Pre-Med). I am excited to be staying an extra year as I am currently working on math pre-requisites to apply for a Bioengineering minor. This allows me the opportunity to take math classes with my younger brother. I am the president of Patriots for Health Assistance, an on-campus organization, and organize volunteer opportunities for students to better understand the healthcare disparities in the communities. One of our most successful events is making birthing kits for the women and midwives of Haiti for safer births.
I have participated the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) at Rutgers and conducted research at the University of Arizona through the Border Latino & American Indian Summer Exposure to Research (BLAISER).
2. Who was your favorite teacher in school and how did he or she impact you? In high school, my favorite teacher and mentor has been Michael Jeffry. He was my teacher for Baby Bio and AP Bio. When he attended JMU, he was on the pre-med track before deciding to become a teacher. Since I had him my 9th grade year, I was able to interact with Mr. Jeffry on a regular basis and he also knew that I wanted to become a doctor. However, in AP Biology, I wasn’t doing well on exams. I scored poorly because I would let me test anxiety become and obstacle. Through staying after school, Mr. Jeffry helped me learn testing strategies and really encouraged me that regardless of an 18% or whatever score on an exam, I was not a number. He really impacted my mentality that helps me in college. In addition, not only did he believe in me, I felt like he cared about my education. If I had questions on suggestions on the courses to take next semester or how to do well in college chemistry, he has always been there still to this day. Individuals that impact you are the ones to always remember of.
3. When did you first decide you wanted to become a doctor and why? In my early childhood, I would answer to individuals saying I wanted to become a doctor. However, I do not remember a specific moment in my life that has propelled me in my decision and desire to become a physician. Rather, I believe it has been a couple of events together. One of the initial events was the passing of my grandfather in El Salvador. Due to the distance from the ranch to medical care, my family and I relied on the services from the Red Cross in helping my grandfather. After taking him to the hospital, it still was not understood what was causing his alignment and he passed away back on our ranch with agony. Still not knowing why he was in so much pain drove me to want to attempt in finding answers. Additionally, I noticed healthcare disparities and differences in access to quality care in El Salvador compared to the United States.
It is through my own community that I have noticed the high need of bilingual physicians. I want my patients to feel comfortable talking to me and not have their words lost through a translation. Through cultural competency, I want to become that physician that they trust with in hopes of it improving their access to care and reducing language and cultural barriers. Therefore, I enjoy volunteering in the hospital and at the Arlington Free Clinic because I can ensure that their voices are being heard and hope to directly impact the community in the future.
As a close-knit family, I would always accompany my mother and brother to their appointments and vice versa. Through interactions with physicians, they would break down the information. I would always be curious and play with the bone model set of the knee, spine, or ankle at the orthopedic or chiropractic office. Last semester, I had the opportunity to shadow a specialty that I found of my interest. These different experiences affirm my decision in wanting to become a doctor that provides to the underserved communities, connects with her patients and community, and potentially become an Orthopedic Surgeon (Sports Medicine).
4. What area of medicine are you interested in? Orthopedic Surgeon (Sports Medicine). I have shadowed several specialties and I thoroughly enjoyed shadowing in this field from being in the OR to the office. As an athlete, I understand how the body moves and the mechanisms of knee, shoulder movement, etc. This field allowed me to interact with a diverse population and when dealing with athletes, I understood the sense of urgency in helping them recover so that they can return to performing at their level. I also enjoyed this specialty because I was better able to understand the decisions of physicians when it came to bones and surgery because I had my own injury (shoulder dislocation and ligamentous laxity) and my mother had a broken finger and arthritis. I was better able to understand the rationale of physicians and see injuries I have not heard of before and realized that it’s more than just seeing patients with a finger or just foot injuries.
5. What’s the coolest experience you’ve had so far on your premedical journey? I think one of the coolest experiences so far has been putting myself out of my comfort zone when applying to summer programs. I have been born and raised on the east coast. However, this past summer, I came across a research opportunity at the University of Arizona. Before this program, I had never been in this state and was able to experience the “dry heat” Arizona is known for. I believe this summer program has been one of the coolest experiences because part of the program consisted of only Arizona specific opportunities, I would have not had the chance to do elsewhere. I had the opportunity to partake and assist with a door to door survey in Nogales, Arizona. Most importantly, I was able to visit a tribal reservation, learn about health and customs, and learn about the culture. While in Arizona, other memorable events included travelling with classmates to go hiking and seeing lizards crawling around Arizona.
I found a great mentor that I had the opportunity to shadow before his retirement. Through Dr. Samuel Hawken, I was able to witness a total knee replacement and the procedure in which they only replace the cushion between the already replaced knee. Being in the office, I was able to see and learn about injuries I had not known about such as a Listanc fractures and its history.
6. What is your favorite book? The PACT because of how the young boys overcame adversity and become who the doctors they are today.
Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam because of how it the book had a dog and allowed me to appreciate the military and further my interest in wanting to be part of the military.
Code Talker because of how it allowed me to expand my cultural competency and appreciation for the Navajo.
7. Tell us one thing interesting about you that most people don’t know.
-Broke clavicle as a baby through birth. Am double jointed.
-Want to be pursue medicine through HPSP or transition into the military for the air force or army.
-I was placed in ESOL classes in second grade despite being born and raised in Fairfax, since I learned Spanish first.
-My long-term goals are to build up enough mileage and run a marathon.
-My bucket list includes travelling, sky diving, skiing, and jet skiing.
-My dog, Thumper, is my best friend/brother.
-On my grandparents’ ranch in El Salvador, I have milked and herded the cows. I have fed the pigs. I have used long bamboo sticks to whack my mangos down from the trees.
-Even though I stopped doing gymnastics since I was in 5th/6th grade, I can still do a round off backhand spring (Summer 2019).
-My middle name is “Lucero” and means shining star.
-I know how to drive a manual car.
8. If you couldn’t be a doctor, what would you want to do? I still have trouble with this answer since I could come up with multiple answers. First, I believe I could potentially be a good physical therapist due to my background in sports. Another option could be becoming a biomedical engineer. I enjoy the team aspect and problem solving. I found this interest through take an introduction to bioengineering course where during the semester, it was my group and I’s task to make a prosthetic hand. Our final design included wood, fishing wire, garden glove, and string. Through any path option I take, I would want to ensure I find a way to continue tutoring or mentoring students. This is something I have been doing and it is amazing being part their journey in helping them understand information.
9. What has been your biggest obstacle as a premed and how did you (or are you) overcome it? As mentioned in my introduction, the biggest obstacle as a pre-med has been the journey itself. In chemistry courses, my grades are not the best reflection of the time I spend studying or of who I am as a person or prospective medical school applicant. This is a big obstacle more of in the long run when I apply to medical schools. I have been overcoming the mindset of “not being strong enough of an applicant” by remembering that I am more than a test score, grade, or being a cookie cutter applicant. I overcome this mentality by having goals that are specific to myself and learning along the process. I continue remaining positive. I also continue finding mentors, individuals, and opportunities that interest me and help me become who I am meant to become.
10. What do you like most about Diverse Medicine? I am fortunate to have across Diverse Medicine as I received a flyer about the Pre-Med talks while at SHPEP. I enjoy how engaging the platform is with real people and how willing people are to help each other or share their perspective. Thank you to Dr. Dale and to others! The webinars also assist me with gaining greater knowledge that I might not already be aware of such as medical schools, scribing, etc.
Are you a premed? Join Diverse Medicine now. It's free!