San Jose

Meet the First Undocumented Med-School Student at UC San Francisco

Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Dec. 4, 2014, 7:58 a.m.

San Fran­cisco — Col­lege ad­visers didn’t know what to say to Jirayut Lat­thivong­skorn. The premed stu­dent was about to gradu­ate from the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia (Berke­ley) and he wanted to go to med­ic­al school. But they’d nev­er heard of a med­ic­al school ad­mit­ting someone in his situ­ation. Was it even pos­sible?

“People who were sup­posed to have an­swers were telling us that they didn’t know how to help us,” said Lat­thivong­skorn, who was born in Thai­l­and and moved to the San Fran­cisco Bay area when he was 9 years old. “It felt dis­em­power­ing, very dis­cour­aging.”

So Lat­thivong­skorn and two oth­er un­doc­u­mented class­mates de­cided to do their own re­search. They called ad­mis­sions of­fices, ment­ors, and friends around the coun­try to see if they knew a fel­low “Dream­er” who had made it in­to med­ic­al school. No one did.

“It was very much like try­ing to find a uni­corn,” Lat­thivong­skorn said.

Al­though Cali­for­nia’s pub­lic uni­versit­ies have a policy of ad­mit­ting un­doc­u­mented stu­dents at the un­der­gradu­ate level, no such policy ex­ists for gradu­ate schools. It star­ted to seem un­likely that Lat­thivong­skorn would get in­to the school of his dreams: the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia (San Fran­cisco), one of the top-ranked med­ic­al schools in the coun­try.

Lat­thivong­skorn ap­plied to the school in 2012 after gradu­at­ing from UC Berke­ley. He didn’t get in, but that didn’t stop him. He ap­plied again last sum­mer, along with more than 7,000 oth­er as­pir­ing doc­tors. This time he got an in­ter­view. Then he got the ac­cept­ance call.

“It’s sur­real and crazy that I’m here even,” said Lat­thivong­skorn, who is fin­ish­ing up his first semester at UC­SF. He hopes to work as a doc­tor one day in poor, im­mig­rant com­munit­ies like his own. That doesn’t seem so far-fetched now.

His school is part of a small group of med­ic­al schools open­ing their doors to un­doc­u­mented stu­dents for the first time. Many used to throw away ap­plic­a­tions from these stu­dents, know­ing they wouldn’t qual­i­fy for fed­er­al loans, med­ic­al res­id­ency pro­grams, or phys­i­cians’ li­censes.

That star­ted to change in 2012, around the time Pres­id­ent Obama gran­ted tem­por­ary leg­al status to mil­lions of so-called Dream­ers. Last year, the Stritch School of Medi­cine at Loy­ola Uni­versity in Chica­go was the first to openly ac­cept ap­plic­a­tions from un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants who qual­i­fied for de­ferred ac­tion. The school ad­mit­ted sev­en of them this fall. Now, about a third of 119 med­ic­al schools sur­veyed ac­cept ap­plic­a­tions from un­doc­u­mented stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ic­an Med­ic­al Col­leges.

This group of stu­dents still can’t get fed­er­al loans or a phys­i­cian’s li­cense in most states, but they can leg­ally work, at least for now.

Ad­mis­sions of­ficers at UC­SF were ini­tially wor­ried about how Lat­thivong­skorn would pay for school, and if he would even be able to prac­tice medi­cine. They had nev­er ac­cep­ted a stu­dent without leg­al status, said Dav­id Wofsy, the med­ic­al school’s as­so­ci­ate dean for ad­mis­sions.

“Ul­ti­mately, we de­cided we had a here-and-now is­sue to deal with, and we wer­en’t go­ing to dis­crim­in­ate against people based on guesses about what might hap­pen in the fu­ture,” he said.

Luck­ily for Lat­thivong­skorn, Cali­for­nia had re­cently passed laws al­low­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants to ap­ply for state-fun­ded fin­an­cial aid and stu­dent loans, and to ob­tain pro­fes­sion­al li­censes. His biggest obstacle now is the un­cer­tain fu­ture of Obama’s De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals. If the next pres­id­ent ab­ol­ishes DACA, and if im­mig­ra­tion re­form re­mains stalled in Con­gress, then he can­not leg­ally work at a hos­pit­al as a med­ic­al res­id­ent.

That seemed far from his mind as he ana­lyzed slides of mi­cro­scop­ic heart cells dur­ing a re­cent class about heart dis­ease. The most im­port­ant thing now, he said, is to make sure he is not the ex­cep­tion. He and his two friends from Berke­ley have cre­ated a na­tion­al net­work of more than 300 un­doc­u­mented stu­dents who share their dream of be­com­ing doc­tors and nurses. The group, Pre-Health Dream­ers, will con­tin­ue reach­ing out to med­ic­al schools and show­ing stu­dents that their dream is not as crazy as it seems.

“We really are at that pivotal mo­ment when schools are now be­gin­ning to listen to us,” Lat­thivong­skorn said. “Stu­dents are put­ting them­selves out there and are shar­ing their stor­ies and are let­ting schools know that hey, as un­doc­u­mented stu­dents we have so much to con­trib­ute to these fields.”

Na­tion­al Journ­al re­cently vis­ited Sil­ic­on Val­ley to see how im­mig­ra­tion and tech­no­logy have trans­formed the San Jose area. In the com­ing weeks, Next Amer­ica will pub­lish a series of stor­ies about the people who are find­ing their place in Amer­ica’s wealth­i­est re­gion.

What We're Following See More »
Trump’s Sanctuary Cities Order Blocked
7 hours ago
Dems Proposes Obamacare-for-Defense Deal
7 hours ago

"An emerging government funding deal would see Democrats agree to $15 billion in additional military funding in exchange for the GOP agreeing to fund healthcare subsidies, according to two congressional officials briefed on the talks. Facing a Friday deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a shutdown, Democrats are willing to go halfway to President Trump’s initial request of $30 billion in supplemental military funding."

Michael Flynn Remains A Russian-Sized Problem
7 hours ago

The Michael Flynn story is not going away for the White House as it tries to refocus its attention. The White House has denied requests from the House Oversight Committee for information and documents regarding payments that the former national security adviser received from Russian state television station RT and Russian firms. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Elijah Cummings also said that Flynn failed to report these payments on his security clearance application. White House legislative director Marc Short argued that the documents requested are either not in the possession of the White House or contain sensitive information he believes is not applicable to the committee's stated investigation.

DC Area To Experience Terror Attack Drill Wednesday Morning
8 hours ago

The Washington, D.C. area will undergo "a full-scale exercise" Wednesday morning "designed to prepare for the possibility of a complex coordinated terror attack in the National Capital Region." The drill will take place at six different sites throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. The drill should not be taken as a sign that emergency services are expecting an attack, said Scott Boggs, Managing Director of Homeland Security and Public Safety at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Inauguration Committee Admits to Faulty Donor Records
9 hours ago

The Presidential Inaugural Committee "acknowledged late Monday that a final report it filed with the Federal Election Commission this month was riddled with errors, many of which were first identified through a crowdsourced data project at HuffPost." The committee raised about $100 million for the festivities, but the 500-page FEC report, which detailed where that money came from, was riddled with problems. The likely culprit: a system of access codes sent out by the GOP's ticketing system. Those codes were then often passed around on the secondary market.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.