Juan Magaña, MHA, shown here with his mother, remembers the advice his parents gave him and his siblings: “be good kids, do honest work, never forget where you come from, and be the best at whatever you do.” He’s taken that advice. A fourth-year medical student, Magaña has won numerous awards for leadership and service.

Fourth-year medical student Juan Magaña, MHA, has seen a great deal during rotations throughout the five-state WWAMI region. Still, a stint in August at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage left him stunned.

“It was astonishing to see just how far Native Alaskans had to travel to receive specialty and intensive care,” says Magaña. “Considering that Alaska is twice the size of Texas, patients who are flown in from remote villages by plane are instantly separated from their family, community and support system.”

Even more amazing were the streams of people who traveled long distances to visit patients. “It wasn’t just close family members… extended family ties and unconditional love are extremely strong. Patients in the intensive care unit rarely spend a night alone,” Magaña explains. “If you just get caught up in the pathology, you may miss seeing the culture and its strengths; you’ll miss out on the whole community.”

Culture and family are central to Magaña’s life, too. Lack of access to health services when he was growing up and helping care for his severely ill grandfather sparked his interest in medicine. Still, Magaña thought he wouldn’t be able to go to college, much less medical school; children from his community — Boronda, near Salinas, Calif. — are lucky to graduate from high school.

Then he learned that his grades qualified him for tuition assistance in the California system. Magaña attended UC Berkeley, where he was given exceptional support by diversity programs. After earning a degree in public health, he dedicated three years to mentoring underrepresented students in the biological sciences as a student counselor for the Biology Scholars Program at UC Berkeley.

Then came a momentous decision: where to attend medical school? Magaña wanted to go where he could continue mentoring younger students, especially minority students interested in the health sciences. Although he had been accepted at several schools, Carol Teitz, M.D., Res. ’80, associate dean for admissions, convinced him the UW School of Medicine was the place to come and “shake things up.”

Teitz was convincing, he recalls, and the UW was attractive for another reason. “I could learn about underserved communities from different regions and see how care is coordinated over a vast geographic area,” says Magaña. His medical-school experience has turned him into an unabashed advocate for the “awesome” region served by the WWAMI program, as well as for Harborview Medical Center.

Magaña’s eventual goal is to practice internal medicine in an underserved area, perhaps as a hospitalist; he notes that scholarship awards reduced his student loan burden, allowing him to pursue primary care.

For now, he’s keeping busy. Magaña is a student representative on the School’s admissions committee and a leader in numerous campus and community diversity programs. He also mentors a handful of UW undergrads. He’s won five service awards and election to the UW chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society. Most meaningful to Magaña — “super huge” — was receiving the UW School of Medicine’s 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award.

“I’m just a kid who was given an opportunity,” Magaña says. “The School gave me a chance, and I want to help level the playing field and give more students who come from similar backgrounds an opportunity to fulfill their own dreams and passions.”