From the Miracle on Ice, to David and Goliath, to the 2004 Boston Red Sox, to Cinderella; underdog stories are engrained in our culture. My passion for the underdog runs deep — being a Miami sports fan, I don’t have much of a choice in the matter.
I grew up in Miami with my mother, a single parent. In high school, our family struggled through the financial crisis, and the pressures and politics of high school baseball — a sport I was passionate about — mounted. School detentions and suspensions were prevalent, to say the least.
As I lived through these challenges — or as Mom would call them, “opportunities” — I assumed the role of the underdog. In my mind, I pitted myself against the world and this new chip on my shoulder drove me. Through the most difficult situation in my life, the passing of my aunt, grew a rose: a newfound passion for medicine. I matriculated into college at the University of Central Florida, and my medical journey began. There, the importance of hard work became apparent, as my friends who chose partying over studying fell by the wayside.
I spent the next nine years, through college, medical school, and business school, fixated on the high school teachers, college advisors, and classmates who told me my dreams were too lofty and couldn’t be accomplished. In college, I became obsessed with dreams of success and top medical school acceptance letters — something only a few had done in my college’s 50-year history. The perseverance and grit I learned became part of who I was, and my passion for medicine grew. After matriculating into the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, I felt as though I had beaten the odds. My pride grew.
Now, five years later, our approaching graduation has pushed me to reflect on my time as a student and my future career.
Medical school has shown me the adversity that all people face — patients, doctors, and students alike. In that way, I believe there is a little underdog in all of us; it is woven into the very fabric of our nation. However, reflecting on my own journey, and all the phone calls, text messages, and visits from loved ones, it is impossible to deny the help that I have received. I realize it was my mom who carried me through the toughest of times in my childhood. And through medical school, it was my soon-to-be wife, Natalie, who held my hand every step of the way. So, as I look toward residency, I ask myself, “With these two incredible women in my life, was I ever really an underdog at all?”
What this reflection leaves me with is the belief that we must focus on gratitude for what we have, not a yearning for what we lack. So, to my mother and Natalie, I would like to thank you both for being with me through the peaks and valleys. My love for you two is unparalleled.
In this wonderful time of graduations and new beginnings, I ask that we all reflect on our accomplishments and pass along our gratitude to the family, friends, and mentors who have invested so much into helping us become who we are. Of all I’ve learned through medical school, one important lesson has emerged: success rarely comes alone.
J. Andres Hernandez is a fourth-year medical student, MBA candidate, and aspiring reconstructive plastic surgeon at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Keep an eye out for more stories from PSOM students as we celebrate Match Day virtually. You can join the Match Day celebration by following #PSOMMatch.