During his first semester as a pre-med biology major, José Archila Quezada struggled with his classes.
He also felt alone, because he saw his fellow pre-med students as competitors in a zero-sum game: winning admission to medical school.
“I felt like everyone was getting better grades and that that was pushing me down,” he says.
He decided to switch majors, to Applied Biomedical Sciences. But he also signed up for a one-credit seminar on current topics in medicine with Chemistry Assoc. Teaching Prof. Khalilah Reddie.
“I took that class to re-motivate myself and see if I really wanted to do medical school, and I decided that I really did,” he says.
As a sophomore, he joined a new program that Reddie was starting in the Kennedy College of Sciences. Reddie designed the Medical Profession Admissions Gap Initiative and Collaboration, or MAGIC, to help students from underrepresented groups prepare for medical school and other health care careers. That was a turning point for Archila Quezada.
“The thing I got out of it most was the relationship with the kids in the group. We studied with each other and checked in with each other,” he says. “Through MAGIC, I saw that we could help each other. That’s where I got a community.”
Another benefit of MAGIC is that sophomores can get tutoring every week in organic chemistry, Archila Quezada says. The students also get introduced to the Baccalaureate to M.D. Pathway Program (Bacc-M.D.), which prepares UMass undergraduates from underrepresented groups for UMass Medical School through summer enrichment programs and monthly meetings during the academic year.
Archila Quezada applied for the Bacc-M.D. program his sophomore year and won admission. Through both the Bacc-M.D. and MAGIC programs, he also learned that grades and test scores aren’t the only things that medical schools look for: They want students with empathetic personalities and experience in direct care.
So during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, Archila Quezada trained to be an EMT. He went to work for PrideStar EMS, a Lowell company that mostly provides non-emergency transport for patients between facilities. There, he learned how to take each patient’s medical history and write a report on each transport. He says he learned a lot about different hospitals and facilities, medications and medical terminology.
“I’ve been able to thrive in this environment,” he says
His experiences as an EMT also shaped his career goal: After transporting many children to Boston Children’s Hospital and New England Pediatric Care, a nursing home for children, he’s focused on becoming a pediatrician.
As a junior, he won provisional acceptance to UMass Medical School through the Bacc-M.D. program – and got a job as an emergency room technician at UMass Memorial-Marlborough Hospital.
From doubting his own abilities, Archila Quezada has become confident of success.
“I have the capability and the resources in front of me to pursue the challenging goal of being a doctor,” he says. “So why not me?”