In Pursuit of a Dream

Profile: Andrea Bañuelos Mota

This MEND volunteer-turned-employee begins medical school at USC

By Nicole Gregory

When Andrea Bañuelos Mota was five years old and had to get stitches for a cut in her hand, the nurse urged her to not look. But, Andrea remembers, “I wasn’t afraid.” In fact she wanted to watch the procedure—an early indication of her interest in medicine.

Today she will matriculate to USC’s Keck School of Medicine with a full scholarship.

Andrea is a San Fernando Valley native — she graduated from Polytechnic High School and attended UC Berkeley, from which she graduated in 2008. Working with MEND, first as a volunteer, then as an employee in health services, fueled her desire to become a doctor.

From volunteer to employee

Andrea is the first in her family to graduate from college. Her father, who passed away two years ago, was a gardener; her mother cleans houses. Neither parent finished grade school in their native Mexico.

Andrea knew about MEND and appreciated its mission. “I really liked the focus,” she says, “to meet the needs of the community, and doing it with dignity. Coming from this community, I have experienced the polar ends — my family treated well and in a sub-par fashion. I know how that feels. MEND treats all clients and patients well, regardless of their circumstances.”

When she moved back to Los Angeles after college, Andrea signed up to volunteer in the health services department.

Then a paid position opened up — Medical Clinical Assistant Manager — and Andrea immediately applied. She remained in that position for 5½ years, where she worked directly with patients, providing care to people with little money.

“The families who come to MEND for health services, they’d have nowhere else to go. For me that’s huge,” she says.

Offering and receiving support

If there is a theme to Andrea’s journey, it’s a desire to help others. “It came from my parents,” she explains. “They always instilled in me to lend a helping hand, that we have to support each other. To make it in this country as immigrants, you need support and to be supportive of others.”

Applying to college and then meeting the academic demands of UC Berkeley were not easy, but Andrea sought out people who could guide her. “It was a huge growth experience,” she says. “I was able to meet great mentors, and great peers with the same background as mine.”

Andrea completed research at Cal State Northridge, UC Irvine and UCLA before applying to medical schools — again seeking out people who could help her navigate that complex process. “Getting into med school is not a one-person job,” she says. She was accepted at nine schools, and chose USC.

Clear goals for the future

Andrea lives with her husband and mother in San Fernando Valley, but plans to live on the USC campus for her first year, coming home on weekends. Her mother and husband are completely supportive.

Her long-term goals? “I want to help prevent disease and complications from disease,” she says. “I want to get involved with health policy implementation, making our system as efficient as possible.” She also wants to be an academic mentor, and already mentors a teenager at MEND, helping her with college applications — the girl hopes to be a doctor.

Forging ahead, according to Andrea, depends on three parts: “Support, education and access to resources,” she says. Looking back on her journey, she adds: “I realized I reached out a lot. And that helped.”