Eddie Hernandez: A decade of helping pre-health students prepare for bold careers

September 8, 2023
Eddie Hernandez: A decade of helping pre-health students prepare for bold careers

As an undergraduate at Texas A&M, Eddie Hernandez clearly remembers the challenges of navigating university life as a first-generation student who wanted to pursue a career in medicine. His studies were challenging, of course, but one of the major obstacles was a lack of familiarity with the non-medical aspects of the field. He simply did not have a trusted family member, friend or mentor to guide him through the logistics of starting a career. Years later, he saw his own experience replayed in his classroom.

“A lot of the students were in the same situation that I found myself in as a first-gen student,” said Hernandez, now an associate professor of instruction in human anatomy and physiology in the UTSA College of Sciences’ Department of Integrative Biology and Undergraduate Advisor of Record (UGAR) for pre-health students. “Our parents have never been in this type of environment before and we’re a little nervous, maybe even a little embarrassed, to ask questions that most other students seem to already know.”

Although they succeeded in class, his students were being interviewed but not hired or accepted by healthcare providers or medical and dental schools. So, Hernandez decided to create a mock interview program.

The program has significantly expanded over a decade, with the number of students honing their interview skills increasing each year. It is also part of a wide variety of institutional resources devoted to preparing UTSA’s pre-health students. One such resource is the UTSA Health Professions Office (HPO), where Hernandez serves as a committee member.

The HPO provides infrastructure and support for pre-health students. Although UTSA does not offer degrees in any healthcare specialization, HPO staff advise students on specialized health program pre-requisite courses, provides opportunities to cultivate career-specific knowledge and skills, and assists students with their medical, dental or veterinary school applications.

The university’s college student success centers also provide personal, college-specific support and unique opportunities to build classroom-to-career skills. For example, Hernandez’s mock interview series occurs during the College of Sciences’ annual Science Semana.

“Science Semana is a celebration for students, and a place to allow further growth as they discover their science identity,” said Daniel Ramirez-Escobedo, director of the College of Sciences’ Student Success Center. “We create intentional programming and environments where students can safely engage in professional development opportunities where, normally, they might not have those opportunities.” 

During Science Semana, Hernandez’s home-grown network of medical professionals travel to UTSA’s Main Campus to conduct interviews with students that match the rigorous conditions of a real interview.

“Interviews have been an essential part of each academic chapter in my life, from medical school interviews to residency interviews,” said Krystal Kwong, M.D., a Family Practice Resident and mock interviewer. “How you speak, maintain eye contact, and express your thoughts in an eloquent manner may win over the interviewers.” 

Kwong said that although a good interview performance was critical to succeeding in medicine, not many universities help to build the essential skill. The program at UTSA is so unique it attracts medical talent from across the country.  

“I think UTSA is an excellent place to get a pre-health education,” said Zin Htway, Ph.D., who has traveled from California for the mock interview program for the last seven years. “The students have a lot riding on all of this, and I think that Dr. Hernandez has created an atmosphere where it’s a very serious but rewarding experience for students as well as for us.”

Htway said that the program’s effectiveness can be seen in the number of UTSA undergraduates who enter graduate school. One first-gen student who participated in the mock interviews this year was accepted into the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the third Best Medical School for Research in the United States. 

“These mock interviews really help level the playing field for first-gen students,” said Hernandez. “I’ve had so many students come out of this experience, get into their careers, and come back and tell me that it helped them be more confident and composed.” 

Hernandez maintains a strong rapport with former students who graduated during his 24-year career. Many of them even return to conduct the interviews they participated in as students. 

In addition to the annual in-person interviews, Hernandez’s commitment to mentoring goes even further. He serves on the College of Sciences’ Student Mentoring Committee and is a faculty advisor for the AED PreHealth Honors Society, Predental Society, and the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSO). He regularly helps premedical and predental students navigate the intricacies of professional school applications, crafts committee letters for students who’ve applied to medical school, and speaks to health-related student organizations on campus.

“It’s really important to me to be able to provide something to first-gen students that I didn’t have when I was an undergrad,” said Hernandez. “I always remember that we’re training the health professionals of the future so they can be great physicians and better our world.” 

Hernandez teaches the following courses:

  • BIO 2053 Human Anatomy and Physiology I
  • BIO 2063 Human Anatomy and Physiology II
  • BIO 3643 Advanced Physiology I
  • HON 3253 Medical Gross Anatomy

Are you a faculty member at UTSA who was also a first-generation college student? Visit the First Generation & Transfer Student Programs website or contact the office at fgtsp@utsa.edu to discover opportunities to support our first-gen Roadrunners.

Read more Faculty Features about other interesting and accomplished faculty at UTSA.