Dr. Leslie Fernandez and the Village That Raised Her | PCOM
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Dr. Leslie Fernandez and the Village That Raised Her 
Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15, 2023

Leslie Fernandez as a child with her late father and brother on a beach in Puerto RicoThere is a traditionally deep connectedness between family members in Puerto Rican households. For Leslie Fernandez, PsyD ‘20, assistant professor of clinical psychology, that bond is what carries her through life’s ups and downs.

“I think about how others were raised and I’m so grateful for my family,” she shared. “If we didn’t have friends, we still had each other.”

Growing up, Fernandez was able to witness love in many ways. Within her own home, she had her parents—who were living a fairy tale love story.

That fairy tale would continue until her father’s death.

“My dad passed away from cancer,” said Fernandez. “He was given a short amount of time to live, my family made sure that we made the best of our final days together.”

Without hesitation, family and friends rushed in to help as Fernandez’s life continued to change.

Leslie Fernandez as a child with her mother and late brother“My mom became a single mom, not by choice, and that village was always there,” she said. “As Latinos, we are raised in generational households and that gave us so much love and support. Fast forward, my brother died unexpectedly and again the village united for us.”

Losing two of the most important people in her life became motivation to dream bigger.

“I knew I didn’t have many options. My father and brother were gone and it was just me and my mom,” she explained. “I knew I had to make it and make it big. I had to fulfill my life’s purpose and be the person that represented the next generation.”

Interested in psychology from a young age, Fernandez worked to become a doctor. She began her career in school psychology—earning her master’s degree and landing a job as a bilingual school psychologist in a Spanish-speaking school district. Seeing kids who lacked support pushed her to pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology at PCOM.

“Deep within me, there was always this flame to do something for my community,” she said. “If I could put a message out there to other Latinos interested in medicine and mental health, don’t be discouraged by debt, what it costs, how hard it’s going to be. Push forward, because we certainly need more of us in the field.”

With Spanish being the second-most spoken language in the country, Fernandez specifically highlights the need for more Spanish-speaking doctors and physicians.

Dr. Leslie Fernandez on a beach with her husband and three children“We have to be able to communicate and break through barriers with some of our patients,” she explained. “There can be so much occurring, and patients can’t express or communicate what they need, or what they’re able to express is being misconstrued.”

To help correct this issue, her ultimate goal in life is to open up a private practice and do pro bono work providing bilingual services to families in need.

As she reflects on how far her village has carried her, Fernandez is confident that no matter where she decides to go in the future, that support will always remain.

“I am so happy to be Puerto Rican and proud to speak Spanish,” she shared. “I am just proud all around to represent my village and my people.”

From September 15 to October 15, PCOM joins others around the country in observing Hispanic Heritage Month. This important celebration honors the histories, cultures and contributions of Hispanics and Latinos everywhere. At PCOM, we recognize our faculty, students and staff who identify as Hispanic or Latino and will highlight their stories throughout the month.

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