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As a child in Puerto Rico, Alberto Martin dreamed of playing professional soccer.
He knew that becoming a soccer pro meant lots of hard work, practice, and willpower to get better even when you’re tired and want to give up.
Today, Martin is using those lessons to become a different kind of pro – a doctor.
Martin is a second-year medical student at the Universidad Central del Caribe in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, and an intern at UT Health San Antonio’s Institute for Health Promotion Research.
He is motivated to share his story to demonstrate how following your dream – on the soccer field or the doctor’s office – can be reality.
“Stories and information you get, they just become such a powerful source of drive or inspiration. Because you want to see you, you want to go one more, you want to take it a step further, you want to see how you can really make some change,” Martin said. “You don’t have to have an effect on a million people. You just have to make an effect on one person.”
“One person can make an effect on another person and another person … a huge circle.”
Martin’s Journey So Far
While Martin grew up on a little island, he aims big.
“Being from Puerto Rico that you feel you’re so small. And just surrounded by water ocean, like apart from a lot, this small little island,” Martin said. “You really want to do something.”
Medicine entered the picture as a possibility for Martin thanks to his father.
“We had to move to Mexico because my dad was doing his MD program,” Martin said. “He did his two years of med school in Mexico, and then he went back to Puerto Rico to the finish his MD program. And after that we started like, moved around wherever someone like offered us the opportunity.”
Martin took inspiration from his father’s career.
“The way he went out of his way to really have an effect on the people – I really got a chance to see that,” Martin said.
Martin decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue medicine, too.
“[My father is] a huge source of inspiration,” Martin said.
On his journey to become a doctor, Martin is motivated to make the most of every opportunity along the way, including a new opportunity in Texas.
Taking Every Opportunity
Martin applied for the Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials: Clinical Investigator Pathway Program, created by Bristol Myers Squibb, in 2023.
At first, he was waitlisted for the program.
But he didn’t let that to get him down. After some time, he got an exciting opportunity.
“It was like June 10th or 11th, something like that, and I really had my summer mostly planned out. And then on the 14th, [the Winn Program] called me and asked me if I could be like in Texas,” Martin said.
Despite the quick turnaround, Martin joined the Winn Program.
“I cannot let this experience opportunity pass,” Martin said. “So, I took out like a napkin and just wrote in the napkin the calendar and all this stuff I had to get, and I said, ‘Yes.’”
The Winn Program placed him at the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) at UT Health San Antonio, led by Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez.
This experience, along with medical school, has taught Martin the importance of balance.
“It’s been tough balancing or trying to … find your way through. So how am I going to be with patients? How am I going to excel in my own way?” Martin said. “It’s really important to have a drive and sort of motivation and inspiration. But it’s also really important to know that it’s OK to fail. It really is.”
Martin reminds himself to be grateful for whatever chapter of life he’s on.
“That’s actually why I have this tattoo on my arm, it’s called, ‘sin prisa pero sin pausa.’ So it’s basically don’t go fast, but don’t stop,” Martin said. “So, if you go really, really fast, you’ll get there, but you don’t know what you missed.”
Challenges Along the Way
Despite his positive and driven attitude, Martin has faced bumps along the road. The biggest was the loss of his father when Martin was a teenager.
“Those are like, really critical years, I’d say for having someone, you know, you can have a father figure and have someone like … a mentor,” Martin said.
Even with the passing of his father, Martin took what he learned from him to reach his goals.
“If I say that I follow his path, in just an essence, I think I have done my job. But it’s so important to always remember why you’re doing it,” Martin said. “Really be open to chapters, pages of your book, of your story, what you want to make for yourself. And just try to keep going.”
While Martin prepares to enter his second year of medical school in Puerto Rico, focusing on internal medicine, he is also apart from the rest of his family, who now live in Arizona.
“Just being close to your family all the time and having that, that support behind you. Even when you don’t know you need it,” Martin said. “You really start longing for something, or you’re struggling, feeling that connection is sort of lost.”
Martin also spoke of the challenges in the Puerto Rican medical field.
“Right now, one of the biggest problems in Puerto Rico is that we don’t have doctors,” Martin said.
In Puerto Rico, the number of doctors declined by almost 60% between 2015 and 2018, the Global Press Journal reported.
This problem persisted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With shortage, comes patient issues, comes, like overworked…overworked staff because tasks are not that divided,” Martin said. “But in the end, you’re so committed to your patients, and so committed. So, you find a way. And I think that’s something that really makes Latinos excel. We’ve always looked for a way whenever possible, and if there’s an obstacle in the way, we’ve become resourceful.”
The Importance of Latino Representation
Ultimately, Martin just wants to help and care for others to the best of his abilities.
“I really want to feel that I gave my all to every single patient,” Martin said.
For him, Latino representation in the medical field is significant.
“I think that when some people feel really small or feel isolated or like they’re not represented, it gives them a drive to push forward,” Martin said. “And it’s really inspirational to see someone there [who looks like you].”
He is also immensely proud of his background and how it’s shaped his journey.
“It makes me really proud, just saying I’m from Puerto Rico,” Martin said. “I would love to practice in Puerto Rico. I love being around Puerto Ricans and I love how they may not know you, but they just shower you with love. And I think that’s also what most Latinos do.”
Martin wants to make an impact on others, no matter how big or small.
“I would really, really like to think or become a source of light for someone someday. And it doesn’t have to be a million people, it can just be one person,” Martin said.
“Once you’re standing – let’s say, whichever is your top, whichever was your goal or motive behind it – you want to be able to look back and say, it may have been tough. It may have been a weird story, not the best one, not the greatest story of all. But it’s my story.”
By The Numbers
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.