A ‘Dreamer’ wants to give back to the Central Valley

UC Davis medical students Rene Monzon and Jose Acosta examine patient Martha Plascencia at Clinica Tepati in Sacramento in January.
UC Davis medical students Rene Monzon and Jose Acosta examine patient Martha Plascencia at Clinica Tepati in Sacramento in January.

I recently accompanied my Spanish-speaking mother to a medical appointment in the Central Valley, where I grew up and where she still lives.


She needed to review some lab results. My mother had a lot of questions, and I interpreted her concerns and questions to the physician. The doctor answered with “don’t worry about it” and “you don’t need to know that.” My mother grew irritated at the lack of explanation. I became frustrated that this type of treatment happens too often with a community that relies on physicians and other medical personnel who do not speak the same language.

I grew up with a variety of challenges as a daughter of farmworkers, as a minority, and as low-income and first-generation U.S. resident. What is the most difficult is the language barrier in the medical field.

From a very young age, I had to interpret during medical visits for my parents, relatives, friends and other members of my community. Serving in this way was fulfilling, but I realized that the real need is not for interpreters, but for medical caregivers who can overcome language and culture barriers.

When my parents were treated by doctors who spoke Spanish and related to our culture, the outcome was better. They were able to communicate effectively, received more personal care, and most importantly, felt heard.

I am a third-year student at UC Davis and an intern at Clínia Tepati, a student-run clinic that provides health care and education to the undocumented and uninsured Latino population in Sacramento. I have the privilege to work with volunteer undergraduates, medical students and staff from UC Davis Health. It has affirmed my goal: to become a physician and work in the Central Valley – the community that needs me the most.

I am also a “Dreamer.” I did not come here to steal or take, but only to offer and earn. I carry the burden of my parents’ sacrifices and my community’s needs. I have claimed the American dream as my own.

With the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program under threat, my career plans and future are in jeopardy. I am working harder to protect all I have gained, all I am and all I want to achieve.

There are more than 14 million Latinos in California, and according to Pew Research Center, more than one-fourth of Hispanic adults in the United States lack a usual health care provider. I know from personal experience that we need more Latino physicians and medical staff to treat farmworkers and low-income families in the Central Valley.

While they have the most need, I find they are the most fulfilling to serve. But to do so, I need to be able to stay in the country where I grew up and continue my education.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era initiative that shielded young undocumented immigrants from deportation, will end, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. There will be a “wind down period” to give Congress time to take action if it chooses to do so, says Sessions.

Karla Ornelas is a third-year psychology and pre-med student at University of California, Davis. She can be contacted at