The path to becoming a doctor has not been easy for Jesse Pacheco. A first-generation college student, Pacheco juggled the obligations of school, work and family and faced considerable challenges while doing it.
But now, with the end of medical school in sight, Pacheco can reflect on a decade of hard work and guidance from UAFS faculty who helped him along the way.
Pacheco had always held a curiosity for medicine as a child when he would accompany his parents on doctor’s visits or go to the doctor himself. But as he became older, he realized the impact that he could have in the medical field.
“I like the fact of being around people, socializing with them, and being a part of their lives to be able to help them improve their quality of life,” Pacheco said.
Initially, Pacheco was looking for a short-term educational program to propel him into the workforce. He decided on the surgical technology program at UAFS, where he earned an associate degree and began working at Sparks.
But the more he worked as a surgical technologist, the more he realized that he could go farther in the field of medicine by becoming a doctor.
“I realized I could do more in medicine for patients as a physician rather than just being a surgical technologist,” he said. “The doctors I worked with encouraged me to go back to medical school, and I realized I could make a difference here in Fort Smith. We always need physicians, and being bilingual is a big asset with our diversity here.”
The first step toward that goal was returning to school to earn his bachelor’s degree, which he did by majoring in biology at UAFS. But while a student here, Pacheco’s grades suffered after he lost his grandmother and close cousin in the span of a year. To make matters worse, Pacheco had to find a job while he was a student to help his mother pay bills.
After a semester of lackluster grades, Pacheco worried that he wouldn’t be able to gain acceptance to medical school. But Dr. Davis Pritchett, a now-retired professor of biological science who served as Pacheco’s pre-med advisor, encouraged him and assisted him in applying to medical school.
“He’s the one who motivated me to get back up after that fall,” Pacheco said. “He told me, ‘The only person who can keep you from going to med school is you.’”
UAFS also gave him a foundation of knowledge that prepared him for medical school.
“As a freshman, I wanted to go to a bigger school. But in reality, the one-on-one interaction I got to have with professors at UAFS is what helped me become a better student,” Pacheco said. “Classes like genetics were really difficult, but when that topic came up on the MCAT, I was ready for it.”
Pritchett helped Pacheco decide which medical school to attend. Pacheco became interested in the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara in Guadalajara, Mexico. As a Spanish speaker with parents from El Salvador, Pacheco saw the opportunity to excel in a new, challenging experience.
“I went down there, met new people, and ran into people in the same boat as me. A lot of people like me got discouraged from going to medical school because we think we have to be at the top of our class. But a lot of other students there weren’t top-notch students as undergraduates.”
That helped give Pacheco the confidence to succeed. In 2017, he returned to Fort Smith to begin his clinical rotations at Mercy Hospital to complete his medical school training. He has one year left before graduating and becoming a full-fledged physician.
When he reflects on the journey that led him here, he sees hard work and help from UAFS as the major factors in his success.
“Life wasn’t that easy for me. I’ve worked hard for everything I’ve gotten,” he said. “It’s been a blessing to get to where I am today, and I can’t thank UAFS enough for the teachers they have to help me prepare for everything.”