Abraham Correa-Medina (BS biology ’19) describes himself as a first-generation Mexican-American and first-generation college graduate. This fall, he will become a first-generation medical student, on his way to becoming a first-generation physician.
During his three-and-a-half years at AU, Correa-Medina’s achievements spanned academics, lab research, competitive sports, and volunteering. He maintained a 3.82 GPA, competed for AU’s Division I wrestling team and went to the conference championships, received a grant to conduct cancer research in the laboratory of Professor of Biology and Department Chair Katie DeCicco-Skinner, worked as a first responder at a local fire department for nearly four years, tutored high school students through DC’s Latin American Youth Center, and helped build a multi-sports complex for Courts for Kids in Tercera Linea, Paraguay.
Correa-Medina’s hard work has paid off. He is currently completing a two-year biomedical research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). His current project investigates the pathobiont, LF82, an adherent-invasive E. coli (AIEC) commonly associated with Crohn’s disease. This fall, he will begin medical school at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He ultimately plans on pursuing a career in anesthesiology at a university hospital, an area of expertise that will allow him to stay involved in teaching, mentoring, research and patient care.
“As a first-generation Mexican-American, I hope to practice medicine in an underserved area and help alleviate current health disparities in marginalized communities,” Correa-Medina says. “I hope that my unique background and life experiences will ultimately allow me to bridge the gap between the Latinx community and the American healthcare system.”
A First-Gen Groundbreaker
Correa-Medina’s family originally lived in Zitácuaro, Michoacán, a small city four hours south of Mexico City. His older siblings were born in Zitácuaro. In 1996, his father was invited to travel to Anchorage, Alaska, to perform as a member of a mariachi band. The family loved their new city of Anchorage. They moved there permanently in 1997, and Correa-Medina became the first family member to be born in the United States.
In high school, as an accomplished high-school wrestler, Correa-Medina was recruited by American University’s coaches. “Wrestling brought me to AU,” he says. And as it turned out, wrestling also gave Correa-Medina a much-needed community, especially during his first year. His adjustment was not always easy, though the university’s Student-Athlete Support Program became another strong source of support. “They provided me with academic tutoring, extracurricular opportunities, and degree/career guidance. Specifically, Spencer Bonahoom was my guy, and he was an amazing counselor,” he says.
Another thing that helped Correa-Medina was thinking about people from home, and how his success could serve as inspiration. “I felt that I was setting a path for future generations,” he explains. “It got easier. As I got older and learned more about disparities, I realized that the better I did, the better it would reflect on my community. It motivated me.”
“Evolution of Medicine and Healthcare”
Correa-Medina also credits DeCicco-Skinner, his faculty mentor, for her guidance. “If it was not for Dr. DeCicco-Skinner, I would not have my current job at the NIH as a postbac IRTA fellow at the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestion, and Kidney Diseases,” he says. “Scientific research will always be a part of my career as a physician. It is essential for the evolution of medicine and healthcare.”
During the summer of 2018, Correa-Medina won an eight-week summer grant from the AU-NASA DC Consortium, as well as an AU College of Arts and Sciences Mathias grant to work as a research assistant in DeCicco-Skinner’s laboratory. He loved the research so much that he continued his work there after the summer was over. He studied multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer and how fat cells can contribute to drug resistance in a BMI-dependent manner. He also participated in a study on Tpl2 knockout mice with induced squamous cell carcinoma.
“Abe was the epitome of the model scholar/athlete. His intelligence, work ethic and dedication enabled him to achieve excellence both on the mat and in the classroom,” says DeCicco-Skinner. “As a laboratory researcher, Abe was methodical and precise, self-motivated and organized. He never showed stress under pressure and saw setbacks as motivational tools.”
In the summer of 2017, Correa-Medina began volunteering as a first responder at Glen Echo Fire Department, which serves the suburbs northwest of Washington, DC, including several National Park Services areas and trails. He originally decided to volunteer because he believed that it would help him grow as an individual in terms of confidence and leadership. He says he’s stuck with it for so long because it is rewarding to him. “What I like most about the experience is that I get to help people of every background on some of the worst days of their lives. I think that is very special,” he explains. “Also, I love that all emergencies are different. While I could respond to two chest pain calls in one day, they will be vastly different due to age, sex, gender, and symptoms. It requires someone to adapt and critically think on their toes — it is an amazing thrill.”
DeCicco-Skinner has complete faith in Correa-Medina and his future success in medical school and beyond. “Abe has all of the attributes that make for an outstanding physician,” she says. “He has a natural calming presence, strong ethics, an empathetic nature, and an innate ability to connect with others.” Lynne Arneson, AU’s Director of Premedical Programs, agrees. “Abe took advantage of everything that AU and DC has to offer to help him prepare for medical school,” she says. “He is such a great student and person, and he will be an incredible physician.”
As for Correa-Medina, as he looks forward to moving to Washington State, he also looks back with gratitude, thanking his family for all of their sacrifices and support. “At age 22, my father immigrated from Mexico to Alaska with his pregnant wife and two children,” he says. “At age 22, my biggest concern was taking the MCAT and applying to medical school. Dad and mom, thank you for sacrificing your dreams so that I could chase mine. You are the two people I want to make most proud.”