Los Angeles, CA
Major: Pre-MED '17
Choosing to trade sunny California for chilly South Dakota winters would be a tough choice for some, but as Manuel Guillen noted, this has been his mildest winter since arriving in the state more than three years ago.
However, that isn’t stopping him from heading back to his home state now that he has graduated from Mount Marty College (MMC) as a pre-professional in the medical field.
He received his degree at the MMC fall commencement Saturday.
Though becoming a doctor had originally been a prospect for him, Guillen had decided to attend Occidental College in his hometown of Los Angeles to obtain a film degree.
Though he ultimately graduated, it was at Occidental that his passion for the medical field was re-ignited.
“I was walking down a hallway one day and saw a woman have a seizure,” he recalled. “I wanted to help her, but couldn’t because I didn’t know what to do.”
He received CPR and first-aid training not long after, but felt that wasn’t enough. He began seriously thinking about going back to college, this time as a medical student.
Around this same time, his sister was also looking into schools to become a radiologic technologist and came across MMC. After inquiring if there were opportunities there for her brother, both Guillens applied and were accepted into their respective programs.
Manuel had previously never set foot on a Midwestern plain before coming to South Dakota in 2014. Everything about the area, from the town size to the people, was different, he said.
“My previous school was considered a small school, but (MMC) is an actual small school,” he said. “I thought it was perfect because the small town size was what I needed for a change of pace. I thought, if I’m starting a new chapter, I should jump into something different.”
The small class sizes enabled him to get to know all of this professors and helped him see how invested they were in their students’ learning.
“They get as enthusiastic as the students,” Guillen said. “If I wanted to learn, they wanted me to learn. If there was something I didn’t want to learn, they wanted me to learn and excel. They are as happy to see me finish as I am happy to be finished.”
His fellow students were also a bright spot of his time at MMC.
“There are a lot of intelligent people attending here,” he said. “It was a positive thing for me to be around that kind of environment. That doesn’t happen in every school.”
It was initially difficult to get back into school mode, particularly because the subject matter Guillen was studying was vastly different from his previous college experience.
“Art is just as rigorous (as the medical field), but it’s a whole different mindset,” he said. “When I was in my art classes, it was more about whether what I did had purpose, what my thought process was and the audience’s interpretation of what I’d made. Here, the rigor came from learning the material, knowing the material and applying the material. Art is so much more abstract and in science, the information is more concrete, so it was a huge shift in mental energy.”
Another struggle was coping with being so far away from his family for most of the year.
“It was tough, but (my family) understood that (being away) was necessary for me to continue on my path to try to achieve my goal,” Guillen said.
He is planning to take some time off from school once he returns to Los Angeles, filling his time coaching youth soccer and doing volunteer work and/or working at a hospital before applying to take the Medical College Admission Test.
“I feel like I’m getting closer (to my goal),” he said. “To know that I’ve completed this part of the journey makes me feel like I’m actually accomplishing something.”
Story by Reilly Biel. Originally published at www.yankton.net.