'I’ll Be the Doctor They Said I’d Never Become' September 27, 2023
Hispanic Heritage Month
As a child, Joyce Daniel Suarez (DO ’26) spent every day with his grandma—who he affectionately
He believes his story isn’t much different from other Latino medical students, but unique in the sense that he wasn’t raised by his parents.
“From a young age, my grandma was my caregiver,” he said. “She raised me and I became
Suarez smiles as he thinks back to childhood. His grandma found work as a seamstress
and was amazing at turning rags to riches. He describes in detail the massive bags
filled with cloth that seemed to magically transform into clothes by the time he returned
home from school.
When Suarez was around eight years old, his grandma tried to carry her heavy, cast
iron sewing machine across the room. As she moved it, her back was seriously injured,
leaving her disabled.
“She didn’t have insurance, so she couldn’t pay the couple thousand dollars it cost
to get an MRI and find out what was wrong,” he said. “She couldn’t be treated by a
specialist, and the over-the-counter medicine wasn’t doing anything.”
With his grandma unable to walk, Suarez became a part of her caregiving team. He recalls
using his computer chair to wheel her to and from her bedroom every day.
It wasn’t until a new, Latino doctor began working in town that Ma got help.
“The doctor told her that he couldn’t give her the surgery she needed, but an injection
would get her back up and going again,” Suarez explained. “Although she was never
the same, she was finally able to walk.”
Once his grandma was better, Suarez’s life felt more normal. The years went on, and
he graduated high school and began college.
“Undergrad wasn’t the easiest,” he said. “It was the first time I was at a place where
people didn’t look like me.”
He felt he could only relate to those who were in his small cohort for the Education
Opportunity Program and Ronald E. McNair Program. Without them, he’s not sure he would’ve
overcome his struggles, as there were some academic advisors who failed to provide
support. The idea of pursuing a career in medicine was shot down, and Suarez was told it simply wasn’t going to happen for him.
“It became fuel to the fire, and I still remember the name of the person who told
me I wouldn’t do it,” he shared. “Soon, I’ll be the doctor they said I’d never become.”
As President of the Orthopedics Club and Vice President of both the Wisely Surgical Association and Latino Medical Student Association at PCOM, Suarez believes he’s doing everything necessary to match come March 2026.
A specialty in orthopedic surgery would bring his journey full circle.
“It didn’t hit me until a few months ago when Ma came over to see my 10-month-old,”
he said. “She was playing with my daughter and I realized that nothing in the world
could bring me such happiness.”
For Suarez, pursuing a career in orthopedic surgery is important because it will help
patients get back to a functionable state—just like Ma.
“The fact that she’s not only here to see my child, but functioning to the point where
she could play with her amazes me,” he shared. “When I think back, it didn’t seem
like that was in the cards.”
Suarez expresses a deep appreciation for the moment and the doctor who made it happen.
“Seeing her hold my baby and play with her—I’m like wow, she’s still here and able
to do that,” he said. “I’m so grateful for the doctor who treated her, and I hope
someday I’m able to do that for somebody else.”
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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About Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) has trained thousands
of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists
who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms.
PCOM operates three campuses (PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia) and offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, educational psychology, osteopathic
medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and school psychology, and graduate degrees in
applied behavior analysis, applied positive psychology, biomedical sciences, forensic
medicine, medical laboratory science, mental health counseling, non profit leadership
and population health management, organizational development and leadership, physician
assistant studies, school psychology, and public health management and administration.
PCOM students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service
to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care
to medically underserved populations. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 215-871-6100.
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