First-year med student Amanda Esteves is all about service and science. The 24-year-old, who hails from the Newark, NJ area, was a biology major at Cornell, graduating in 2012. Soon after graduating, she and her parents went to Puerto Rico, where her whole family, including her parents, was born and raised, to attend her great-grandmother’s 100th birthday party. Amanda says that reflecting on her family’s history was a humbling experience. She knew that she was the first person in her family to attend college, but she didn’t know that her grandmother had only been educated through 6th grade – and that her great-grandmother didn’t even own a pair of shoes until she was 14 years old. The gravity of this knowledge still sits with Amanda as she thinks about where she is today.
What’s as remarkable as where she is today is how she got here. She always loved science, and when she was in college she decided to go into pharmaceuticals because that field just seemed “more attainable” than medicine. She even had an internship at one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical labs, intending to launch a successful career in that important realm.
But Amanda felt out of place in pharma. Unmatched. She felt like it was “too much of an industry” and it just didn’t jive with who she was. Because who Amanda was, she was learning more and more over time, was someone very deeply committed to service – she had always done at least 150 hours of volunteer work per year in college – and deeply committed to medicine. She decided to drop out of pharma, focus on medical school, and just go for it.
The problem was, Amanda hadn’t spent her college years gaining any clinical experience, so she was a bit behind the curve. She knew that it would make sense to spend a “gap year” rectifying that, but the call to service was just too strong, and Amanda chose to spend her time doing something she thought would actually teach her more in the long run: she joined the corps at City Year (cityyear.org).
Amanda says that her time at City Year was “really hard” in lots of ways. She had a two-hour commute from her home in New Jersey to her post in East Harlem, New York City every day – and since her job started at 6:30am, that meant a 4:00 a.m. alarm. She also couldn’t start the return commute until 6:00 p.m. It was a very long day, every single day.
Though the commute was a struggle, the reward was the work – long-term, intensive service to people who really needed help. Amanda spent her time with students in grades 3 through 8, pulling out groups of children for work in literacy, math, and behavioral issues. The population was about 90% ESL, so Amanda helped even further by bridging the language gap, helping parents to communicate with teachers.
Amanda knew that CMSRU was her number-one choice, and that she was a truly mission-matched candidate. The school’s commitment to civic responsibility spoke to her, as did CMSRU’s plan that all medical students start building clinical skills beginning in the third week of year one. She’s pleased to be at what she calls “an outstanding school,” and says she’s “learning exceedingly well.” She especially loves that because of CMSRU’s unique curriculum, students absorb and retain more knowledge, rather than just remembering it briefly to get through a test.
Service projects in Newark and East Harlem kept Amanda grounded in the past, and now she’s helping the people of Camden through two separate projects. First, she works with CMSRU’s Primary Urban Partnership (PUP), which provides elementary school students with early exposure to health professions. She is also working with Camden-based Kids Alley (kidsalley.org) on their Saturday programming for children ages 7 to 18. Initially, the program was an educational program that also provided two full meals to these children, who may otherwise not have access to food on those days. Amanda has watched and participated as the program has expanded to include health education such as nutrition classes, and ESL lessons for the parents of the children as well. In fact, Amanda directly led the initiative to incorporate ESL into the Kids Alley programming.
“Service learning,” Amanda says, “brings us all back to being real people.” She has worked with, and for, students in crowded urban communities for years now, and knows that it will remain her future. She is committed to “addressing health disparities and helping underresourced communities” because “they have such a strong sense of community and deserve to be worked on.”
Amanda will spend the summer working with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers (camdenhealth.org), and hopes that she’ll be able to learn at the heels of Cooper’s own Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, who leads CCHP as it works with healthcare providers, hospitals, and physician practices to improve the care and coordination of healthcare for Camden residents while reducing costs.
And after med school? Maybe Amanda will be a pediatrician. She has considered this field – it’s in her short list of possible specialties to pursue. But no matter what specialty she picks, Amanda is destined to have a major and positive impact on the urban landscape, continuing her trend, and doing all she can to make sure that her story – the story of someone who is first in her family to attend college – can be repeated over and over and over in the communities she serves.