Host Site Mentor Spotlight: Health Center #4 by Mary Bridge

We are a little over halfway through the service term, and I have started to reflect on serving and living in Philadelphia so far. After thinking about the past few months, I feel very blessed to be serving at Health Center #4. My host site mentor is Dr. Cynthia Venegas, and I have had the pleasure of hearing her journey that led her to become not only a physician, but a director of an entire clinic. Throughout her life, she has continuously pushed through the obstacles that could have potentially thrown her off the track to becoming a physician. Her story inspires me to continue persevering not only through the difficulties of this service term, but also through the ups and downs of my own medical school application cycle. Here is her story!

“Growing up in San Francisco, California was great. I had a ton of friends, I was the president of clubs at school, and I really just loved life. In 8th grade, everything changed when my parents decided that they were going to move back to the Philippines. I had to move back with my siblings, and suddenly everything was crazy. We got off the plane after arriving with our white poodle and fancy American car, and everyone looked at us like we had four heads. Even though I am 100% Filipino and I look Filipino, people used to say that they could “smell” I was from the States when we first moved back. My mother used to tell me to not talk a lot while we shopped in the markets, so that people wouldn’t know and upcharge us for food. It was a wild time.

I started high school at an all-girls Catholic school. Even though everyone could speak English, my classmates all spoke Filipino slang to one another. I didn’t know Filipino at that time, so I often felt left out and ostracized. It was very hard to make friends, and this was something I was not used to. I forced myself to learn Filipino, and I finally was able to build a few relationships. To this day, I am still sort of scarred from those experiences in high school with those girls. I didn’t like being spoken to differently because I only spoke English. It was a tough time, but important for my growth.

I then went to undergrad in Manila, Philippines. The rest of my family decided to go back to the US, because my brother had a lung condition and couldn’t take the air pollution in Manila. I was 16 years old when I started college there, and now I was living there without my family. I excelled in college, and I immediately went to medical school. I was studying like crazy, working harder than I ever have. I graduated at 24, took my board exams, entered into the US match for residency, and ended up matching at Penn Presbyterian. I worked hard through my residency and I eventually got the clinical director position, which is where I am now.

As a clinical director, I am constantly dealing with troubleshooting and administrative duties. But I want to be more accessible to the patients. I want to be out there, with everyone, and giving them the chance to just ask me questions and understand the services we have here at the health center. I love our community so much, and that’s why I work here; it’s really just the best. Our patients deserve to feel welcome and excited to use our services. And that’s the thing, they are services. I want to get away from the term “free clinic”. It’s not a free clinic, its a health center with extremely passionate and accomplished professionals who are going to do everything in their power to try and help you. That is my mission as a clinical director at Health Center #4”.