This post was updated Aug. 27 at 8:33 p.m.
When he wasn’t in school, Omar Viramontes would spend his time picking grapes and selling produce to help his family. In May, he graduated from the the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and is now a resident physician at UC San Francisco.
Nadia Alulema, a UCLA administrative specialist and friend of Viramontes, said she believes Viramontes has served as a role model to members of the Latino community.
“What really has struck me as impressive is the way (Viramontes) serves as a mentor towards not only his group of friends, but also that he does so much for the community and the Latino community as a whole, just showing it’s possible that he could … be where he is,” she said.
While at UCLA, Viramontes engaged in health research and activism. He described his four years at UCLA as diverse and allowing him to discover what he was interested in.
“It was through a mixture of experiences and mentors that I was able to have my interests formed,” he said.
Viramontes attributes his motivation and success to his parents and the sacrifices they made to move to the United States.
“It’s my family that carries our farm workers that came to this country for the American dream, for us to do good for them, good for the community, good for the world,” he said.
Viramontes and his family moved from Mexico to the Central Valley when he was 10 years old to give a better life to their children. His parents worked in the fields, and to help support them, Viramontes and his brothers would work as produce vendors, selling corn and melons in various communities in the Central Valley.
The town his family moved to, Earlimart, was a low-income community that consisted mainly of Mexican and Filipino immigrants who worked in the agriculture industry, Viramontes said.
“I think most of the community, including my family and I, we just wanted the opportunity to prove to ourselves and to prove to others that we belong here, just like any other immigrant in America,” Viramontes said.
When he first moved to California, he and his family struggled with making new friends, learning a new language and acclimating to American culture, Viramontes said.
“We embraced it,” he said. “We were here to take advantage of every and any opportunity, and that’s what we did.”
Daniel Viramontes, Omar Viramontes’ older brother, said that as a child, his brother was driven to succeed.
“He always wanted to learn,” Daniel Viramontes said. “I always had in mind that he was going to school, he was going to go to college and he was going to do something with his life.”
Omar Viramontes graduated from high school as valedictorian in just three years. He attended UC San Diego for his undergraduate degree.
As a child, Viramontes said he had always wanted to be a teacher or an engineer. It was during his time at UCSD that Viramontes decided he wanted to pursue a career in medicine.
He said he was inspired to become a doctor when he thought about the healthcare available in his hometown, and how it could be improved. The healthcare in Earlimart was not as good as the healthcare available in more affluent areas, Viramontes said.
“I wanted to do something about it; I wanted to be a doctor that could provide care to a (community like my own),” he said.
When he first arrived at UCSD, however, Viramontes said he struggled to feel like an equal to his peers. Many of them came from more affluent and academically rigorous backgrounds than he did and were more prepared for college coursework, he said.
“One of the challenges was the fact that I had to work harder at the beginning of college to get to the point where I was as knowledgeable and as competent as my peers, and telling myself that it was okay that I was in this position because I was working hard to get there,” Viramontes said.
Nevertheless, Viramontes said he was able to succeed academically at UCSD by putting in hard work and using his family’s sacrifices and Earlimart’s potential for improvement as motivation.
In the future, Viramontes hopes to go into gastroenterology, the study of the liver and other gastrointestinal organs.
Additionally, he said he hopes to pursue research and work in digital health innovation, a broad field that harnesses technology to improve health services. He said he is interested in improving patients’ satisfaction with their care, as well as reaching people in remote or underserved communities.
Viramontes said if he had any advice looking back at his past, he would advise himself to always look for the greater good in his endeavors.
“(I think) every person in this world strives to achieve – whether you’re an immigrant or not an immigrant – everyone tries to be better for themselves, for their families and for their communities,” he said. “But (don’t) forget that whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it for yourself, but you’re also doing it for your family and you’re also doing it for the greater good. Make sure to always keep that at the back of your head because that’s important.”