From Undocumented Immigrant to Medical Student October 9, 2023
Hispanic Heritage Month
Mauricio Soto (DO ’27) remembers going to the doctor with his grandmother. Her appointments
were frequent because of her chronic health issues. He was only in his early teens,
but Soto’s grandmother spoke no English. She needed him to translate for her so she
would understand instructions from her doctor.
Those appointments and missed days of school left a lasting impression on young Soto.
“Sometimes I’d have to miss school,” he said. “It was OK because this was my grandma.
I loved her. I remember picking up all the pamphlets that were around and reading
them. I started retaining that knowledge. That’s how I got introduced to health care.”
As he grew older, Soto realized that he wanted to be a doctor. He also began to question
why there weren’t translators to help non-English speakers. During a recent visit
to a local health department for his own vaccinations, Soto heard a page over the
intercom for the Spanish translator.
“That made me happy to hear that things have improved from when I was younger,” he
said with a smile.
Soto was born in Monterey, Mexico. He and his family came to the United States in
1997 when he was 6 and settled in Ambrose, a small town in Coffee County, Georgia,
near his mother’s sister. As he grew up, Soto learned English and excelled in academics.
During that time, he and his family members overstayed their visas. They became undocumented
“My academic career has always been full of uncertainties,” Soto said. “Even though
I graduated as the salutatorian of my high school class, I just didn’t have the finances
or know how to proceed. Being an undocumented immigrant comes with a lot of responsibility.”
He graduated from Coffee County High School in Douglas in 2011, but college was not
“A lot of it is because of the language barriers,” he continued. “Your parents expect
you to read these legal documents at the age of 14 or 15, just to translate for them
and do the best you can to help them out. As the oldest in my family, I felt that
pressure as well. I was just growing up fast and trying to figure out what to do,
especially as a first-generation college student.”
With his immigration status in question, Soto found many opportunities that were open
to his classmates where doors closed for him, but he didn’t give up. Instead, Soto
began writing letters to senators and representatives sharing his story and asking
“Closed mouths don’t get fed,” he said. “You’ve got to tell people that you need help
and ask what resources there are.”
One of Soto’s letters found its way onto the desk of a physician who decided to sponsor
him and pay his tuition to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology at Abraham Baldwin
Agricultural College in Tifton in 2016. While his sponsor chose not to be publicly
recognized, Soto is incredibly grateful.
After ABAC, Soto began working at Valdosta State University with the College Assistance
Migrant Program. The grant-funded program paid students from migrant and agricultural
backgrounds and provided resources to help them succeed. Soto served as advisor for
the program for seven years. One of his projects was helping the students volunteer
as translators at a migrant farm workers COVID vaccination clinic.
“You could see the relief on the farm workers’ faces whenever they saw somebody they
could relate to,” Soto said, referring to the VSU students serving as translators.
“Most of the time, they were talking to the students, not the healthcare professionals,
not the doctors that were there in the tent. They were talking to the students because
they could relate to them, and they were trusting them to pass this information along.”
This experience showed Soto that knowing a patient’s language helps connect with them
in ways beyond just a conversation.
“I feel like it would make a lot of sense to have somebody breach those language barriers
and be able to relate not only on that level but also on the cultural level,” he said.
“You have to build that rapport and that trust with patients.”
Growing up, Soto realized that his family members and most of his Hispanic friends
did not seek medical care until a health issue became an urgent situation.
“I think it’s important to have doctors who speak Spanish just to avoid these kinds
of situations and maybe build a better bridge between health care and the community,”
he said. “Even though a patient may not be speaking, just knowing the doctor understands
their language and seeing a caring face can go a long way. Knowing that if you needed
to, you can ask them a question. They’ll understand what you’re saying.”
During his time working at VSU, Soto obtained residency status, which allowed him
to apply to medical school. He chose PCOM South Georgia.
“It felt like home whenever I visited,” he said. “I saw the diversity of the student
population here. And it is here, smack dab in the middle of the community that I want
to serve. What's a better opportunity than this right now? It just felt like a calling.”
Attending medical school in Moultrie is one step closer to Soto’s goal.
“It’s always been my dream to come back and feed back into the community,” Soto said.
“It’s my roots. It’s what’s driving me right now to get through med school. I would
love to stay here in South Georgia.”
Even though he’s only in his first year of medical school, Soto is considering specializing
in primary care or obstetrics/gynecology. He lives in Valdosta with his wife of eight
years, Karlee Causey. The two met while students at ABAC.
This fall Soto began his first year of medical school. He hopes to encourage other
people of Hispanic heritage to enter the medical field.
“I want to spread the message and let them know that it’s possible as long as you
put your mind to it,” he said. “As long as you voice yourself and explain your situation,
maybe your letter will land on the right desk or your story will catch the right person’s
ear. Hopefully, later on I can also plant those seeds and help future physicians.”
Soto’s mother, Yolanda Abrego, and his stepfather, Ubaldo Osornio, still live in Ambrose.
Even though his grandmother passed away, his parents are delighted with the path he’s
“My mom is super proud,” Soto said. “She reminds me that this is what I always wanted
to do and that maybe one day I can return the favor. It’s what my grandmother always
wanted me to do. She wanted me to follow my dreams.”
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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.
About PCOM South Georgia
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) extended its commitment to the
Southeast by establishing PCOM South Georgia, an additional teaching location in Moultrie, Georgia. PCOM South Georgia offers both
a full, four-year medical program leading to the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)
degree and a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences degree. PCOM is a private, not-for-profit
institution which trains professionals in the health and behavioral sciences fields.
Joining PCOM Georgia in Suwanee in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the state,
PCOM South Georgia focuses on educating physicians for the South Georgia region. The
medical campus, which welcomed its inaugural class of medical students in August 2019,
has received accreditation from the American Osteopathic Association's Commission
on Osteopathic College Accreditation. For more information, visit pcom.edu/southgeorgia or call 229-668-3110.
For more information, contact:
Cindy B. Montgomery
Public Relations and Social Media Manager
Office: 229-668-3198 | Cell: 229-873-2003
Connect with PCOM South Georgia