Chang has the grades to make it. She’s committed to serving her patients. But she is also undocumented.
“I was brought to the United States from China by my parents when I was 5 years old,” she told CNN. “We entered legally and even submitted an application for permanent residency. But it took over 10 years for the final rejection to happen, and by then I considered the United States to be my home.”
But Chang, like other students who spoke with CNN, worries that President Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration could threaten the program — and their career aspirations.
“If DACA gets eliminated and not replaced by anything, I will have to put my dream on hold,” said Gloria Rinconi, a DACA recipient and biology major at Richland College in Dallas who decided to pursue medicine as she watched her mother, who also is undocumented, battle breast cancer.
Parsing Trump’s promises
“The employment cards DACA recipients get don’t limit them as far as the type of work they can do,” he said. “So if someone completes medical school and is accepted into a residency program, they can pursue their graduate medical training. And they can potentially receive a medical license and practice medicine.”
So far, that territory remains uncharted. Given that DACA is only five years old, med students with that status are only now in their first year of residency, said Matthew Shick, director of government relations and regulatory affairs for the medical colleges association.
Facing a physician shortage
“Letting DACA recipients go into the medical field is as much about serving our national interests as it is a question of compassion,” he said.
DACA-status students also are more likely to be bilingual, to come from diverse cultural backgrounds and to intend to practice in high-need places, Shick added.
Numbers expected to swell
She aims to study medicine.
“Growing up in the United States presented many challenges for me as it did for many other undocumented children, such as the language barrier and the lack of sense of belonging,” she told CNN. “However, school became my safe haven in spite of the challenges I faced as an undocumented student.”
Another scholarship recipient, Lucero Gil, is majoring in biology on the pre-med track at Lehman College in New York.
“I’m the first generation from my family to go to college, and I want to become a pediatrician one day,” she told CNN.
Motivated to serve patients
Despite her legal status, Yale awarded Chang a scholarship to cover tuition and issued her a loan to help pay living expenses, she said. Still, concern lingers about how the nation’s immigration policies might affect her career.
“To be honest, as of now I am focusing on getting over one obstacle at a time and trying not to worry about the future a few years from now, especially as nowadays everything is constantly in flux,” she said.
Chang wanted to study medicine because of her father, who suffers from a severe chronic illness and is effectively disabled.
“Due to immigration status and lack of money, he did not have health insurance and was not able to see a physician to manage his symptoms,” she said. “I grew up taking care of him, and seeing everything he has gone through has really inspired me to work in health care.
Already, Chang has volunteered at a local hospital and at a clinic that serves patients without insurance, including undocumented people.
“The US has a great shortage of physicians, and US-born professionals are not meeting the demand,” she said. “Allowing undocumented immigrants to continue to pursue their medical training will help to overcome this shortage, and will directly improve the health and well-being of current American citizens.”