Alum's Journey Comes Full Circle Before Med School

After graduating with a master’s degree in physiology from the University of Cincinnati and overcoming a bout with COVID-19, Cameron Almeida ’18 now has a job to finish before starting med school at Northeast Ohio Medical University in August.

Cameron is a full-time Learning Hub instructor at Bay Area Community Resources (BACR) in San Rafael near the Dominican University of California campus where his medical school journey first started. The move has brought back fond memories of how Dominican prepared him for a career in helping others in need once he arrived from Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga.

“I really wanted to transfer out of community college before reaching the 60 credit threshold for public universities, and I was exploring private schools. Dominican stuck out in particular due to its small size and friendly atmosphere,” Cameron says. “I wanted to get into medical school and biology was the major with all the prerequisite classes. In addition, research was part of the curriculum, a major staple in medical school applications. This may come across one track-minded to some but, to me, fulfilling my dreams is as essential as breathing.”

Cameron’s first day at Dominican in 2014 also happened to be Dr. Tyler Johnson’s first day teaching.  Dr. Johnson, Associate Professor in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics in the School of Health and Natural Sciences, became Cameron’s teacher, mentor, and inspiration.

“He has an infectious desire to help others, and out of every faculty member present, I looked towards his guidance first,” Cameron says. “A mentor should believe in you even when you don’t. They should celebrate your successes and allow you to fail because in failure the hardest lessons become engrained. Dr. Johnson embodies all of these and is someone willing to move heaven and earth for his students. I would never have gotten into medical school had he not entered my life.”

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At Dominican, Cameron presented at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in Memphis, participated in a research field trip to New Zealand, and spent time as a student assistant in the Physician Assistant Studies program. He also interned at San Antonio Regional Hospital and was a health education intern for the City of Montclair.

“Dominican was transformative to say the least, as I left a completely different person than when I entered,” he says. “Opportunities to redefine who I wanted to be -- both professionally and personally -- presented themselves in abundance. Service providers and employees hired me at a moment’s notice not necessarily over Dominican’s name, but the value system imparted from the university.”

Upon graduation, Cameron decided to pursue a master’s degree in his quest to go to medical school. He applied to Temple University, Drexel, Tulane, and Georgetown, but his first choice was the University of Cincinnati.

“I had grown tremendously during undergrad, but felt an extra boost to my application was needed before I could be ready for medical school,” Cameron explains. “The MS in Physiology program at the University of Cincinnati was exactly that.”

However last April, on the verge of getting his master’s degree and as he was preparing to apply for research positions at Cincinnati, Cameron was diagnosed with COVID-19. His housemate was a healthcare worker who contacted the virus so the entire house of five occupants tested positive soon after the first COVID patients arrived at the University’s medical center.

To protect his family in Los Angeles from the virus, Cameron refrained from driving home and remained bedridden in Ohio, quarantined in his room. Sadly, Cameron watched COVID updates on the news and felt helpless.

“I became restless from not being able to help out during a global pandemic which had me applying for short-term jobs created to address new disparities and get my mind off med school applications,” Cameron says. “I do not have a healthcare license yet and figured there are always other ways people need assistance besides direct patient care. BACR specifically needed a science instructor and I knew the area well from attending Dominican so the job lent itself as a natural fit. This notion has held true as kids are falling behind in development, and giving them even a minor sense of normalcy is improving academic outcomes in addition to their mental health.”

At BACR, Cameron is providing high school students with a safe, positive environment to catch up on schoolwork. He also tutors them on demand. It has been a rewarding experience for him to see those kids grow into responsible adults, and his focus is to continue helping people when he goes to med school.

Dominican trained Cameron well for his path of becoming a physician whose goal is to “drop into hot zones to help people when they are at their most vulnerable.” He is eyeing future opportunities to work with Doctors Without Borders after his residency or, perhaps, first specializing in Emergency Medicine then doing a fellowship in Disaster Medicine. He longs to be first responder on the ground in wake of a natural disaster to start the healing process.

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“Dominican taught me the value of a positive attitude. The general vibe there is one of kindness, openness, and sincerity. These are soft lessons lost in the moment, but carried years down the road into making Dominican graduates well-rounded leaders of tomorrow,” Cameron says, “There are plenty of times where I could have given up on medicine, but knowing the value of happiness pushed me forward. My time at Dominican was not always pleasant, but it was a perfect microcosm of life. Everyone just wants to be happy and has a different way of going about it. We eat, play, conflict, and grow as a community.

“As a physician, understanding what it means to be positive will keep me strong in times of crisis.”

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