Six years ago, Leopoldine Matialeu didn't speak English that well and was living in a shelter with her younger sister after her mother had lost her job. Today, she is one of 109 UC Davis medical students dedicated to improving health who will begin classes on Aug. 6.
"My desire to pursue a higher education was a priceless gift that my dad instilled in me," said Matialeu, "Growing up, I was taught to value religion, education and hard work. I came to the U.S. in 2005 when I was 18 to live with my mother to study in California. When we became homeless, I had already started taking pre-med classes at Canada College and was studying to improve my English. The school, shelters and nonprofit organizations were a tremendous resource. These experiences reaffirmed my interest in giving back to the community and becoming a physician who cares for underserved populations. I am honored to be a part of the Class of 2016."
Matialeu immigrated from Bandja, a small village in the West African country of Cameroon. Fluent in French and Fefe, her native language, she studied and became fluent in English. In 2008, she graduated from community college with honors and was valedictorian. She received a UC Regents scholarship to attend UC Davis and graduated with an undergraduate degree in biochemistry in 2010. As an undergraduate student, she helped raise money to send to Sudan for medical supplies through the nonprofit group Doctors Without Borders and volunteered at the Imani Clinic in Sacramento, a community clinic that provides free non-emergency health care to the uninsured African-American community in Sacramento.
"My background and experience allow me to understand the urgent health-care needs of underserved communities," said Matialeu. "In Bandja, many people die from malaria and AIDS, and there are only two doctors and one hospital for about 100,000 people. The lack of resources at the hospital, high level of poverty and corruption, and scarcity of physicians affect the quality of health care. My goal is to help alleviate suffering in communities within and beyond the U.S."
Matialeu is one of seven students enrolled in the school's Rural PRIME program, a special curriculum developed to attract and prepare future physicians for careers in medically underserved and diverse communities around the state.
According to Darin Latimore, assistant dean for student and resident diversity at UC Davis Health System, Matialeu's path to medical school is unique, but her strong character, compassion, leadership ability and focus on improving health is characteristic of the Class of 2016.
"Our students have demonstrated their ability to overcome challenges and their commitment to helping create a better world for all," Latimore said. "They dream of becoming leaders in medicine and reducing the disparities that characterize today's health-care system."
Jessica Buchanan, a Folsom native and UC Berkeley graduate, is keenly aware of social determinants of health and is committed to being a part of the solution. As an intern and volunteer for two years with the Share Institute, a small nonprofit organization based in Fair Oaks, Calif., she focused on improving the health and well-being of women and families in India and Nicaragua. While on a medical mission to Tamil Nadu, she helped deliver babies in one of the country's busiest maternity hospitals and designed a first-aid clinic for rural mothers to increase awareness of the symptoms and treatment for dehydration, a major cause of child mortality. In Nicaragua, she ran a project with the Women in Action nonprofit organization, teaching single mothers to crochet small crafts to earn income and help support their families.
"These experiences opened my eyes to extreme poverty, social injustice and inequality in access to resources and health care," said Buchanan, who declined a full scholarship to another nationally-ranked medical school to attend UC Davis. "I saw first-hand how compassion can change a community and how anyone can make a difference if they are willing to try."
Central Coast native Fabian Alberto is committed to becoming a primary-care physician who serves rural residents. The son of farm workers, Alberto worked in Soledad, Calif., with his family in the fields on weekends and during the summer and fall harvest when he was in middle school and high school. He rarely saw a physician as a child, and it wasn't until his grandmother was diagnosed with diabetes when he was in high school that he realized a career in medicine was possible. He is the first in his family to graduate from college. As a student in the UC Merced San Joaquin Valley PRIME program, he wants to learn how to provide care in medically underserved communities and lead efforts to improve access and the quality of services.
"It was such a privilege to work with farm workers and to know the challenges that they overcome on a daily basis," said Alberto. "My goal is to establish a practice where patients feel comfortable about sharing what is ailing them and to go back to the community to ensure youth know about the same opportunities to further their education that I have had. I want to be a leader and mentor to help others become the physicians that the Central Valley needs."
The school received nearly 5,200 applications for this year's incoming class and interviewed 503 potential students. The Class of 2016 consists of 60 women and 49 men. Almost half (43 percent) identified themselves as coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, and 42 percent are from populations that are underrepresented in medicine. (Underrepresented populations include American Indian/Alaskan Native, Black or African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and Asians who are not Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Asian Indian or Thai.)