University of California, Riverside

Health Professions Advising Center

HPAC Spotlight

Students who work with the HPAC office are active in a variety of research, community service, and philanthropic programs and are actively making their mark in the health fields. To congratulate the students on all of their hard work and dedication, HPAC spotlights these students so that it can inspire others to do the same. If you know of anyone who works with HPAC and deserves to get recognized for all of their hard work, let us know at

  • Winter 2019


Esther Kuan is a 4th year majoring in Biochemistry with a Medical Emphasis 

Throughout high school and college, Esther has gained significant exposure to medicine but wanted a deeper understanding beyond the volunteer perspective. Over a year ago, she began working as a scribe in the Emergency Department at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach and Irvine. As a scribe, Esther works directly alongside physicians charting each patient’s visit from their chief complaint to their discharge or admission into an electronic charting system. This includes patients undergoing cardiac arrest, strokes, heart attacks, and critical traumas. This way, the doctor can focus more on treating the patient instead of the time-consuming documentation.

Esther said that adjusting to typing speed required to be a scribe was one of the more difficult aspects of the job. She credits her ability to survive the long 10-hour shifts by fully understanding how the ER operates, from medications to procedures to billing/insurance policies. More interesting is the opportunity she had had to learn more about a doctor’s medical decision making. In some cases, she has learned to anticipate the doctor’s orders such as lab tests (bloodwork, urine screening) or diagnostic imaging (CT, X-rays, MRI scans) in order to rule out life-threatening diagnoses. Moreover, she had the opportunity to document and witness first-hand various procedures such as laceration repairs, lumbar punctures, cardioversions, and intubations.

For those who are interested in scribing, Esther would recommend this: don’t go through the motions. Engage with the MD, PA, NP, or resident you are working with and ask questions. Esther continued to say: “My experience is only a small glimpse of the wide spectrum of things I have yet to understand about the medical field. But the amount of information I have learned and continue to explore with every shift has only further solidified my interest in medicine.”

In addition to scribing, Esther is also an HPAC Ambassador, the Recruitment Coordinator for the COPE Health Scholars program at Riverside Community Hospital, a board member for the American Medical Student Association, and a Research Assistant in Dr. Stanley’s neuroscience lab.

Come and see Esther in her ‘Ask an Ambassador’ hours to talk more about her experiences and yours!


  • Fall 2018

  • Alejandro Quinones

 Alejandro Quinones: 4th-year Biology major and pre-med student 

I am a 4th year pre-med student majoring in Biology. My first experience in undergraduate research was through the SALSA RISE summer research program. The following summer I was a research intern at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center. Currently, I am conducting undergraduate research in Dr. Rasmussen’s Laboratory under the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences. Outside of research, I am involved in other activities. I am a volunteer at San Bernardino Free Clinic, an officer for Riverside Free Clinic, board member of LMSA+, President of Young at Heart and a Chicano Student Peer Link Mentor.

This summer I had the opportunity to participate in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) EXROP Fellowship at Harvard Medical School (HMS) through the HMS Office for Diversity and Community Partnership. The HHMI EXROP at Harvard Medical School provides outstanding summer research experiences in HHMI Scientists’ laboratories to undergraduate students from groups underrepresented in the sciences. Students can conduct research in the Harvard Medical School, Harvard University Campus, and the Harvard-MIT collaborative Broad Institute.

I joined Dr. Emily Balskus Laboratory under the Chemical and Chemical Biology Department at Harvard University. I investigated the metabolism of an anti-inflammatory prodrug commonly used to treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease in the human microbiota with hopes of creating more personalized medicine. Through this research opportunity, I learned more about the process of scientific research and its implications on human health.

I was also paired with a graduate research mentor that made this experience even more enjoyable. My mentor attentively guided me through my research and provided great insight into future research opportunities and careers. The lab was very welcoming and supports a team mentality because it is very interdisciplinary as it combined biology, physics, and chemistry. In addition to conducting research, I participated in seminars and networking activities at the Harvard Medical School. I met physicians, physician-scientists and scientists that are leaders in their respective fields and are pushing forward the social and scientific boundaries of medicine. They not only presented their research but also the obstacles they overcame to become who they are today which was very inspirational. This experience reminded me of the importance of scientific discovery for the future of medicine and how there are passionate individuals pursuing the betterment of human health. 

  • Spring 2018


Carlos Tejeda is a third-year pre-medical student majoring in Biology. He has been in a number of leadership experiences, including two research summer internships - Research in Science and Engineering (RISE) and the Medical Student Summer Research Program (MSSRP). He worked under the Entomology Department with Dr. Omar Akbari for the RISE program and under the Biomedical Sciences Department with Dr. David Lo in the UCR School of Medicine for MSSRP. Carlos is also a board member for the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA+) and for the organization Providing Opportunities, Dreams, and Education in Riverside (PODER). Additionally, he is a Health Scholar and a Patient Experience Ambassador volunteering at Riverside Community Hospital, a Patient Advocate at San Bernardino Free Clinic, attends the California Care Force at Coachella Clinic and is a current CNAS Peer Mentor assisting UC Riverside freshmen throughout the academic year.

During Fall ‘17, Carlos was granted an opportunity to be part of the “Butterfly Project” working closely with HPAC by assisting undocumented and DACA students who want to pursue a career in medicine and attend professional school. Carlos mentioned, “Being part of the Butterfly Project is an honor and it is time to demonstrate our support to our undocumented students so they can have an equal opportunity in achieving higher education and pursuing their career dreams. The Butterfly Project working with HPAC will be the foundation in assisting pre-health undocumented and DACA-mented students by sharing resources and informing them that they have our support.” Distinctively, Carlos was able to perform research by contacting different medical schools across the states to discover undocumented-friendly medical schools and find many resources for undocumented scholars so they can feel secure and be appreciated in equity. At the end of the “Butterfly Project,” Carlos and HPAC were able to create a new label in our HPAC website which includes resourceful information for our undocumented student community involving having connection with the Pre-Health Dreamers, on-campus and off-campus resources for undocumented students, a list of undocumented –friendly medical schools, and much more. Carlos said, “The Butterfly Project was a great idea to be introduced to HPAC as the undocumented topic is becoming an enormous issue across the United States. I believe the Butterfly Project will help guide UC Riverside undocumented students and help them build their network with other pre-health undocumented scholars such as the Pre-Health Dreamers.” Currently, this project is still in progress as Carlos plans to develop a video about our pre-health undocumented scholars and be placed in our HPAC website.

With Carlos’ hard work as an intern in HPAC, it is our honor to present him as our HPAC’s Spring ‘18 Spotlight. If you have any questions or comments about the Butterfly Project, he is available to be reached via email at


  • Winter 2018


Asra Irfan, a fourth year, pre-med biochemistry major is HPAC’s Winter ’18 Student Spotlight. Asra is part of University Honors and has served as an ambassador and discussion leader for the program. Additionally, she’s participated in undergraduate bioengineering research, shadowing physicians, volunteers with San Bernardino Free Clinic, and is currently involved with two UCR School of Medicine pipeline programs—Mini-Medial School and the Health Coach Program.

Outside of UCR, Asra recently had the opportunity to participate with Atlantis (formerly the Atlantis Project) as a “fellow” during summer 2017. During this five-week opportunity, Asra shadowed physicians at Hospital Clinico Universetario de Santiago de Compostela in the north-western region of Spain. During the program, Asra shadowed doctors in general surgery, pediatrics, neurology, neurosurgery, and anesthesiology. According to Asra, “I gained exceptional clinical experience while broadening my perspective about how medicine is practiced abroad as I saw it in action. The doctors were genuinely invested in teaching us and took the time to explain patient diagnosis, treatments and further care plans.”

This experience was truly one of a kind for Asra. As an Atlantis Fellow’17, Asra is now an Ambassador for the program and is happy to answer any questions if you are considering a clinical abroad opportunity.  (Asra Irfan |  


  • Fall 2017


HPAC Spotlight- Bindi Hira: Pre-med student and member of UCR’s American Medical Student Association (AMSA)

Bindi joined the board of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) at UCR at the end of her freshman year and now in her fourth year, she leads as club President. AMSA’s mission is to serve as a connection between UCR’s pre-med students and the resources available to them so they may explore their interest in medicine. Bindi says, “We aspire to build a community that can support each other as we work towards a career in healthcare. We want to provide opportunities that can give our members some exposure to the health field and help them develop the characteristics and skills professional schools are looking for.” AMSA has general meetings throughout the academic year open for all students to attend, featuring doctor panels, medical students, medical school presentations, and workshops.

As a result of her involvement and dedication to AMSA, Bindi has grown professionally and gained confidence in her leadership skills.  Additionally, Bindi credits HPAC peer mentoring to help her get involved. “It was my HPAC peer mentor who encouraged me to become a leader. I am thankful that she gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. Running a student organization requires more attention than what you would expect, especially one as large as ours. I have learned that the quality of the work I and other officers contribute determines the success of our organization.”

For Bindi, AMSA and HPAC have been a stable support system for her since arriving to campus her freshman year. It’s our honor to highlight Bindi as HPAC’s Fall 2017 Spotlight. 



  • Spring 2016

School of Medicine Senior Associate Dean Neal Schiller, HPAC Director Charlie Scruggs, HPAC Asst. Director Amber Nicholson, and UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox

School of Medicine Sr. Assoc. Dean Neal Schiller, HPAC Director Charlie Scruggs, HPAC Asst. Director Amber Nicholson, and UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox 

HPAC Assistant Director Amber Nicholson receives 'Staff Who Make A Difference Award'


Amber is the recipient of the UCR Staff Assembly 2016 ‘Staff Who Make A Difference Award'. Amber was nominated based on her dedication to UCR, the School of Medicine and most specifically her contributions as assistant director and pre-health advisor within the Health Professions Advising Center.

Amber was honored on Monday, June 6 at the UCR Staff Assembly Award Ceremony at the Chancellor’s residence.  

Congratulations, Amber!


  • Fall 2015

   UCDC UCR Summer Internship              
         Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) - UCLA
In the summer of 2014, Kathy Dinh, an HPAC peer mentor for Dentistry, completed the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program commonly known as SMDEP. This rigorous six-week academic enrichment program was created for college freshmen and sophomores interested in careers in medicine and dentistry. Filled with countless networking opportunities, clinical experiences, lectures, workshops, and guest speakers, Kathy states that “[At the UCLA site for SMDEP] I was able to grow academically, professionally, and personally. And I can’t believe it was all free!” This program has made her very passionate about health disparities and helping the underserved. Kathy believes that health professionals have the full responsibility to their patients – that includes the duty to speak up for them. “To truly know how to help their patients, health professionals need to be actively engaging in politics and staying up-to-date with new technology and discoveries in the health field.”

Kathy Dinh SMEDP PhotoOne highlight of SMDEP is the inter-professional relationships that are made between pre-med and pre-dent students. As a recent trend, professional schools are trying to promote a team approach to patient care by improving students’ understanding of other health professions. Problem based learning, known as PBL, is often implemented in medical and dental schools because it is a way of teaching students how to apply what they learned in lectures to solve patient cases. PBLs were part of the SMDEP curriculum which gave its students teamwork and critical thinking skills. Kathy found that everyone was able to contribute, whether it was their interpretations of the patients’ symptoms or their personal input on the way they were feeling about the case. “The most amazing part about the PBLs is how it opened my eyes culturally. For example, I was able to explain Asian methods of ‘curing’ such as cupping therapy to my group mates. And in return, they taught me more about their cultures like how their family views doctors and medicine.”

“SMDEP is definitely a program that changed my mindset about dentistry. It took me from just saying ‘I want to be a dentist,’ to firmly establishing ‘I am going to be a dentist.’” In an individual advisement session with Dr. Marcus and Dr. Hewett, admissions and faculty at UCLA’s dental school, Kathy was reassured that she was a competitive applicant even if she was disadvantaged. “When I was filling out the application, Amber Newell, one of our spectacular HPAC advisors, was able to give me a brief description of what disadvantaged meant,” she continued, “As our conversation progressed, I knew I was disadvantaged because I am a first generation student and my family has financial hardships.” It wasn’t until after her talk at SMDEP that she truly understood the magnitude of the word disadvantaged. “Before, I only saw the term disadvantaged as a check box to show that I am a student who needs financial assistance.” “I now know that there is a much, much deeper meaning to that word. Disadvantaged represents hardship. It shows admissions people that you have obstacles that you need to overcome and have overcame.” 

For more information about the SMDEP experience and application process, visit or come talk to Kathy and our other HPAC peer mentors. If you would like to know more about other summer programs check out our HPAC website or come into our office in Pierce 1114.

SMDEP Group Photo



  • Summer 2015

   UCDC UCR Summer Internship              
         UCDC Academic Internship

Sharon is a recent Neuroscience graduate participating in UCDC Summer 2015. She is currently an Operations Intern at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts. Smith Center is a Washington, DC based nonprofit health, education, and arts organization that offers programs for the community and specializes in serving people with cancer and utilizing the arts in healing. As an Operations Intern, Sharon has had the opportunity to combine her interests in holistic and integrative healthcare in a nonprofit setting. She is excited to learn more about the daily operations of health-based nonprofits during her internship at Smith Center. Thanks to her UCDC experience, Sharon has developed a strong interest in urban health and would like to start her own health-based nonprofit after attending medical school.

For more information about UCDC and how you can apply, visit


  • Spring 2015

City Year: Los Angeles
A recent UCR graduate and former HPAC peer mentor, Sapphire Ear currently serves as an Americorp member for City Year Los Angeles (CYLA). City Year is a national education-based nonprofit that unites young people for a full year of service dedicated to fighting the national drop-out crisis in some of America’s most underserved schools. “To me, the challenges of health equity, sustainability, and education are so inextricably tied. In Los Angeles alone, nearly 60% of students every year are at risk for dropping out. These individuals are 3x more likely to be unemployed and in poorer health, and 8x more likely to be incarcerated.” Given her experience and passion for community education, social justice, and systemic innovations, Sapphire was placed at UCLA Community School, a K-12 pilot school dedicated to bilingual instruction and serving the underserved. Alongside her team of 8 spirited corps members, she supports elementary and middle school students through academic interventions, socioemotional support, and school-wide events. “The hours are long, starting at 7:00am and sometimes ending as late as 8:30pm. But I am still so gratefulIn college I was always spreading myself thin. But now I can dedicate my entire self to something I am passionate about, a thing I look forward to experiencing when I’m a physician.”
For Sapphire, the decision to commit a year to City Year was an easy one. Having grown up with very little, in a refugee family that survived war and genocide, Sapphire understood from a young age what it was like to overcome challenges and build a life from almost nothing. What she learned was that consistency and nurture were vital to building a child’s sense of resiliency and empathy. Struggling with her parent’s divorce, constant moves, and bullying at her new school, Sapphire became disengaged with her lessons, and eventually fell behind. Thankfully she had her grandmother, who pushed her to stand up for herself and vocalize her discontent. “My grandmother was my anchor during these turbulent parts of my childhood. I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today without her.” Today, Sapphire makes anti-bullying a big part of her work in mentoring students. “As a Corp member, we walk a fine line between staff member and near-peer. I get to see a lot that goes on outside the classroom, more than what my teachers are privy to, and yet, I also have the power to guide those events in a positive direction.” “Ultimately I want to build my students up to be independent, thoughtful young citizens who welcome challenges, are curious about their world, and are compassionate to others.” “It’s a long, enduring process. Sometimes it feels like you invest all this time and energy into your students, and gain little to show for it. But every now and then a student says or does something by themselves that just confounds you (in a good way).  Your heart just swells with pride. It’s those little breakthroughs that engergizes me to wake up at the crack of dawn every morning. It sustains me as much as it sustains my purpose by them.”




  • Winter 2015

UCLA Fielding School of Public Health Magazine

A recent UCR alumnus and former HPAC peer mentor in Medicine, Chelsea Santos is now pursuing her MPH in Community Health Sciences at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. As one of 24 Opportunity Award recipients, she was recently featured in the Fielding Magazine for her experience growing up in an immigrant family and her consequent drive to work in underserved communities as a Public Health professional and primary care physician. The magazine is available online HERE

In the article, Chelsea discusses her experiences as a first generation Filipina American and how help make her realize the importance of gratitude, perseverance, and empathy from an early age. With these values in mind, she actively became involved in local and international communities while an undergraduate at UC Riverside. According to Santos, her extensive work in these communities made her, "realize the complex challenge of keeping communities healthy," and how their health, "hinges on interdisciplinary collaboration and the power of empathy." Santos plans on using her MPH in order to address these issues as a primary care physician and encourages everyone to explore the field of public health.

If you would like to learn more about public health, community service, or international clinical opportunities, check out our peer mentor page or visit the HPAC office in Pierce 1114.


UCLA Public Health

Santos, Chelsea. "Growing Up in an Immigrant Family." UCLA Public Health 1 Sept. 2014. Print.


  • Fall 2014

Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology

Jason Tran, a fourth year Public Policy major at UCR, has been an HPAC peer mentor for two years and is extremely active in public health research across the globe. For the past three summers, he participated in research programs held at Harvard University, UC Riverside, and the University of Pennsylvania. He also engages with local community organizations such as Riverside Free Clinic, Riverside Health Connect, and Mini Medical School. This past June, through his fellowship at Harvard University, Jason was published as the first author in the Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology for his work on Daytime sleepiness, circadian preference, caffeine consumption and use of other stimulants among Thai college students. In this study, Jason "evaluated the prevalence of daytime sleepiness and evening chronotype and assessed the extent to which both are associated with the use of caffeinated stimulants among 3,000 Thai college students." He found that using excessive caffeine stimulants, such as energy drinks, are impacting college students' sleep patterns and increasing their relative daytime sleepiness. For the full article, check out the publication online HERE

During the fellowship sponsored by Harvard University, Jason spent a week in Boston, Massachusetts and two months in Ethiopia. Running biostatistical analysis on a data set of 3,000 participants, he discovered findings about the health risks of caffeine and presented his work to a group of public health professionals at the Addis Continental Institute of Public Health. He also presented a poster at a conference held at Harvard Medical School. "I never took a statistics class in my life," says Tran. "This fellowship was an wonderful educational experience because I got to learn for the sake of policy applications instead of a grade. I essentially learned introductory and advanced topics in biostatistics and epidemiology without the pressure." Jason's interest in public health began with his desire to help underserved communities. As he became more involved with local projects, he continued to become more involved in the field. "With the support of many people, including my HPAC advisor Amber Newell, I decided to apply to the [Harvard] fellowship. It was a pivotal turning point in my own self-confidence and career." The experience allowed Jason to gain insight towards addressing health disparities at a policy level. Additionally, he stated "the fellowship helped me narrow my focus towards future career goals. I just completed a health policy internship at the University of Pennsylvania this past summer and I am thinking of applying to more public policy programs in the near future." On campus, with the help of a research mentor, he conducts his own project on HIV/AIDS policies.

If you would like to become more involved in research, summer programs, or community service, Jason is just one of the many peer mentors at HPAC that can help. Whether your interests lie with public health, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, or any of the other health professions, our dedicated group of peer mentors are here to help you find the programs that can help spark the beginning of your careers just like Jason's did. For more information check out our peer mentor page or visit the HPAC office in Pierce 1114.


Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology

Jason Tran, et al. "Daytime sleepiness, circadian preference, caffeine consumption and use of other stimulants among Thai college students." Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology. 2014; 6(6): 202-210.




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General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Department Information

Health Professions Advising Center
Rivera Library B03

Tel: (951) 827-6233

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