Three BHS seniors get jump start on bachelors, master's degrees David Anthony Garcia Joseph Sanchez Arinea Salas

........................................................................................................................................................................................

It's rare for more than one student from the same high school to be accepted into the University of New Mexico's Combined BA/MD degree program.

And this year three Belen High School seniors got in.

In eight short years, David A. Garcia, Arinea Salas and Joseph Sanchez, also 2012 valedictorians, will walk away with a baccalaureate degree in the College of Arts and Science and a doctor of medicine degree from the School of Medicine.

The combined program aims to address the physician shortage in the state by choosing students who are committed to serving New Mexico communities, according to the program's website.

"To get three from one high school is almost unheard of," said Royceann LaFayette, BHS senior class councilor.

One other BHS student has been accepted into the program since its establishment in 2006, said the program's manager, Nichelle Gilbert.

The 18 year old submitted his application to the program in January and was stunned when he heard back from program coordinators a month later.

"They called me on February 1 and told me that I was the first one to be chosen and got the early acceptance letter right away," he said, adding this showed they were the most interested in having him attend compared to other colleges.

Although Garcia was accepted into seven colleges around the nation, such as University of Notre Dame, University of Miami and University of South Carolina, the University of New Mexico was the right choice for him, he said.

The Belen resident discovered medicine was the career for him after mingling in the sciences through a chemistry internship with Sandia National Laboratories in 2011.

Garcia presented his internship findings on the "Synthesis of Ferrite Nanomaterials" at the 23rd annual Rio Grande Symposium on Advanced Materials.

Garcia doesn't know what kind of medicine he will specialize in, but plans on practicing in the Land of Enchantment.

If Sanchez hadn't just woken up, he said he would've been more excited about learning that he was accepted into the program.

"When we found out, we were all really excited and hugging each other," he said.

The program is an "amazing opportunity more than anything, and I don't think there is any other opportunity like this out there."

A long-time goal of this 18 year old has been to become a psychiatrist and help those in need.

Lending a hand was something the Belen resident did on a regular basis for his special needs sister, Kierstin, who passed away five years ago.

"There's people that do need help out there, and those of us that are capable of helping should help them. There's no reason why we shouldn't," he said.

In the future, Sanchez plans to practice psychiatry in the state he grew up in.

"I know the people here and it's my community. It's my home. I want to give back to people that have given to me," he said.

Being accepted into the program allows Salas a chance to give back to others what doctors gave her — a chance at life.

At the age of 1, the 18 year old underwent heart surgery to repair a hole in her heart.

"Doctors saved my life, and now I'm able to live. It's a great thing and I don't have any problems. I'm healthy," she said.Out of the other universities competing for Salas' admittance, she chose UNM, since she received a full-ride scholarship, wanted to be involved in New Mexico politics — another interest — and received a seat in medical school.

"It was a hard decision, because I got accepted into NYU, Duke and Notre Dame, but you can't beat a reserve seat at UNM's School of Medicine," she said.

To diagnose and treat a patient's medical condition, a doctor must problem solve, said the Bernardo resident.

"I don't want to do the same thing over and over again. I want to actually help peoples lives and better their lives," she said.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.