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Student Profile: Juan Carlos Lopez

Juan Carlos – 'JC' as he is known here at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) – is instantly likeable. He bounces into the room for our interview with a big smile and says, "Ask me anything, I'm an open book." And he is. But as his story unfolds, this self-proclaimed extrovert reveals that the act of listening is what ultimately made him want to practice medicine.

He was born in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, and immigrated to Hollywood, California with his mother, father and brother when he was just seven years old. At first, they lived with another family in a small home, he and his brother sleeping on a mattress on the floor and his parents on the sofa. While life went on like that for quite some time, he remembers feeling that his situation was different from other immigrant families in the community. His family had a network of people – cousins and friends – to help them land on their feet, find work and adjust to the culture. This notion of security and what it meant to feel safe had a deep and lasting impact on JC. Even as a child, he realized that these human connections had a profound effect on the quality of his life.

Eventually the family moved to their own apartment. JC and his brother attended a rigorous all-boys high school and excelled in both academics and athletics. After studying cognitive science and neuroscience at UC Berkeley, JC was offered a job with an addiction specialist working on clinical trials at the California Pacific Medical Center. He met with patients for hours at a time and quickly realized that listening to people in their time of need was something he very much enjoyed. Unfortunately, as he began to take on more management responsibility, he saw patients less and less. One day, he realized that the part of his job he liked most was the part he was doing the least. "A light bulb went on," he says, "I almost instantly saw myself as a doctor."

Now, with nearly a year of medical school under his belt, he reflects on what got him here. "I credit my family," he says. Then he laughs, "And I give credit to life's ability to surprise me."

In terms of using his experience to practice medicine, JC comments "I want to remember that every patient is someone's son or daughter and I want to see it through their eyes. I hope I never lose that empathy."