FAHC: “Breaking Barriers in Medicine”

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Photo courtesy of the Filipino Association for Health Careers

Alexa Tan

Senior Staff Writer

Greek life for pre-health and pre-medical students at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) is abundant, with organizations like Rho Psi Eta, Mu Delta, and Phi Delta Epsilon. But for many BIPOCs on campus, these spaces may feel intimidating and often unwelcoming, especially for those coming from underserved communities and high schools.

The Filipino Association for Health Careers (FAHC) is different. 

Far from breeding internal competition, FAHC aims to uplift its members in the name of community, service, and development. FAHC is a space built especially for the Filipinx community but welcomes all members of marginalized groups.

The Bottom Line (TBL) reached out to UCSB alumna and FAHC founder Shiela Mae to comment on her process of founding the organization amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recalling her first year at UCSB, Mae said she often felt ostracized by communities for choosing the pre-med route. 

“​​I [was] being told that I should switch my major, that maybe being pre-med isn’t for me,” she told TBL. “I felt like everyone else knew what they needed to do, but as a first-generation Filipina American, I needed a little more time to figure this out.” 

As a result of the barriers she felt during her first year at UCSB, Mae was determined to take action against gatekeeping in the medical field.

Unlike FAHC, most pre-medical organizations at UCSB impose numerous requirements for students to become members of their organizations and gain access to their resources, such as a minimum GPA requirement and a lengthy rush process. 

Contrary to this, FAHC serves as “a space for [members] to not worry about finances, to get resources [and] an unconditional support system that has genuine passion and intention to help others,” according to Mae.

To learn more about FAHC’s impact on the pre-medical community at UCSB, TBL sat down with current FAHC president Sarahi Perez Aguilar.

Two years ago, Aguilar was in a very different place, academically and socially. 

She said, “I was almost gonna give up on myself and my dreams and I was gonna settle for something else… I already felt that I wasn’t worthy enough and the pre-med advisors on campus were already telling me there’s no way, it’s impossible — change your career. And that in itself was devastating.”

Like Mae, Aguilar came from a low-income background and an underserved high school. As a result, Aguilar also struggled to find resources to help her on her pre-medical journey. 

With many of the existing organizations requiring dues or extensive time commitments, Aguilar recalled feeling like “[I] have to almost prove that [I’m] worthy to access [those] resources.”

Founder, Shiela Mae, and other leaders at FAHC pose with their 2021-22 UCSB Student Engagement & Leadership awards for Anti-Bias Program and Best New Campus Organization. Photo courtesy of the Filipino Association for Health Careers

FAHC is special because it welcomes students from all walks of life who are interested in pursuing a health career in the future. A scroll through FAHC’s Instagram feels like a warm embrace for medical-oriented students — with posts ranging from study tips to de-stress events to professional opportunities. 

Reflecting on FAHC’s founding, Mae continually expressed gratitude for the alumni, ates and kuyas (Illocano for “sisters and brothers”) that supported her throughout her undergraduate journey and the organization’s early stages. She would like to give special thanks to Eric Canlas, Felipe Sta. Agueda, Angela Calaguas, and Kyle Luna.

“Without the support of founding members, alumni, and the overall community at UCSB, it would’ve been much more difficult to establish,” she wrote. “I think having one collective space where we were all able to connect gave folks comfort throughout [that] isolating time.” 

“If we want to begin dismantling gatekeeping in medicine, it needs to begin with equity for marginalized communities,” said Mae. Indeed, FAHC is a prime example of how powerful a community can be when its members seek to give, not take, from one another.
Join FAHC’s growing community by connecting to the organization’s GroupMe. Follow their Instagram and join their Facebook page for event updates and resources.