Story of Francis Navarra

Francis Navarra

One day I asked [my mentor], “What do you see in me?” and he responded, “I see greatness.”

Francis, Medical Class of 2021, GEMS Class of 2016-2017

My name is Francis and I am a first-generation Filipino American. Honestly, I never had plans to attend college. While growing up, my passion was skateboarding and I had intentions of pursuing a career in it. My skateboarding experience consisted of sponsors and competitions; however, I knew altruistically that skateboarding wouldn’t be fulfilling. I lacked guidance when it came to academic pursuits and as a result, I never took the SATs or ACTs. I was born in Los Angeles, California and because my mother couldn’t afford to raise me, I was sent to the Philippines to be raised by my grandparents for the first five years of my life. At one point, my grandfather worked odd and multiple jobs to keep food on the table, and even then it sometimes wasn’t enough. A lack of education in my family persisted as a common mentality is to work in order to make ends meet. I realized I became a trailblazer as the first person in my family to pursue a college degree.

When I first went back to school I wasn’t that serious about it. However, around the ripe age of 21, I decided to become serious about getting an education. After enrolling in anatomy and physiology, with the intent to pursue a career in nursing, I fell in love with how the body functions. My professor who taught these courses was a retired African-American pathologist who I developed a good relationship with. One day I asked him, “What do you see in me?” and he responded, “I see greatness.” During that time, I worked as a nurse assistant and it helped me gain respect for nurses all while developing a skill to build rapport with patients. After completion of the nursing school courses, I was inspired to attend medical school. I eventually transferred to UC Irvine and the transition itself was difficult. I was older than most of my peers and it was academically challenging. During this time, I doubted my abilities and myself walking through an ambivalent landscape wondering if medicine was truly what I wanted to do. Coming from a small community college environment to a class of 300 to 500 students was a huge change. I realized there were many students just as smart, if not smarter than myself. However, this ambivalence was uplifted as thoughts of my family and community led me to persevere through the study of my major, molecular biology, and biochemistry. In order to overcome the challenges I had, I had to make realizations in many aspects of my life. Such as the idea of upward social mobility, the sacrifice others before me have made, and disparities that need to be mitigated especially in the Hispanic community of Santa Ana, California.

Being a part of the GEMS program has been extremely rewarding. In fact, Dean Taylor is like a surrogate father to me. Dean Taylor is passionate in his nurturing role as an educator and the emotional investment he has in his students is omnipotent. Confidence is a huge aspect of being a part of GEMS as you are incessantly pushed to be better as a student. The challenges I have found while being in GEMS motivates me to acquire knowledge that I will definitely need as a blooming physician. In addition, Dr. Kaingo is like a big brother helping catalyze my GEMS experience from a clinical perspective. Being in GEMS inspires me to strive towards becoming a better student, person, and to push myself while also helping my colleagues. I believe that in order to accomplish your goals of becoming a professional in medicine, you must be persistent and resilient. Furthermore, the poem by John Wooden has helped me along my journey, “Remember this your lifetime through/Tomorrow, there will be more to do./ And failure waits for all who stay/With some success made yesterday./Tomorrow, you must try once more/And even harder than before.” In this field, we need people who have a sense of culture and are willing to bridge these health disparity gaps.