Melissa Zapata
Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine

Melissa Zapata


Future Goals: Pediatrics, the ability to travel and meet individuals from all walks of life.

Minorities in Medicine who have inspired you: My pediatrician growing up, Dr. Angel Cadiz, has always been a major influence in my decision to pursue medicine. Witnessing how highly revered he was in the community and how respected and loved he was by my family was inspiring.

Describe a hardship you’ve faced as a minority student pursuing medicine: Fortunately, I do not experience this at my current institution, however, there is a stigma against minorities where they are perceived as just a statistic, just a number, and people believe that who I am and what my last name is are the reasons that I got into medical school. The reality is that I have worked hard my entire life and have sacrificed many opportunities to achieve what I have thus far in my career: graduating Summa Cum Laude, being a prominent member of the community, I am just as deserving as any other hardworking student to become a physician and help make the health care industry more representative of the general population.

Advice for URM who want to pursue medicine: Do not let who you are be an obstacle as to what you can do. Show everyone what you are capable of and if you work hard, excel in your academics, and become involved in the community, everything will fall into place. As minorities we need to prove ourselves more and work harder to be in the same playing field as most students, which is why I stress that academics are imperative to succeeding; it can lead to scholarships to help pay for undergrad and even medical school, and it can lead to new doors opening that growing up one may have thought were impossible at the time. Give these programs as many reasons as possible for why you are an ideal candidate for that institution.

How do you feel empowered in your community? In Des Moines I have seen the demand for individuals who are fluent in Spanish, and since coming here I have had a greater appreciation of my background as well as my ability to reach out to so many individuals within the community and relate to them on a more personal level. I am currently part of the Community Health Immersion Project at my institution, and weekly we go out and communicate with many Latinos in the community whose primary language is not English. These individuals open up about their health concerns and enjoy being able to speak to someone about such issues in their native language since it provides a sense of familiarity to them and they too feel that they can be more expressive about their health concerns. Being in Des Moines has demonstrated the demand for Latino doctors throughout the nations who can relate not only linguistically, but culturally as well which is something that unites all of us together.