Resilient future doctor now inspires thousands on social media with her story
Christi Candido dreamed of becoming a doctor while in high school and all through college — but something always kept her back.
At times it was her grades. Sometimes, her low self-esteem.
Even majoring in biology at UC Davis didn’t push her any closer to medical school.
But during four years of soul-searching after graduating from college — she calls them “growth years” — everything began to change. Candido encountered a series of events and people that persuaded her to believe she would be a viable applicant. Among those who encouraged her were her fourth-grade teacher, a Kaiser Permanente doctor who became her mentor, and a UC Davis Health physician whom she worked for as a junior research assistant.
And they were right.
Candido is now a student at the UC Davis School of Medicine.
“This is surreal,” Candido said with a bright smile Monday, the first day of school for the 137 new students who are in the class of 2027. “It feels like all my dreams have come true.”
Candido, understandably, refuses to let go of this please-pinch-me, I’m-really-in-med-school feeling. Which is why she’s filming much of this week’s class orientation on her Instagram account. It’s a popular feed for hundreds of students across the country from underdog backgrounds who are cheering her on.
“I want to capture all these moments,” Candido said. “This is what I’ve built up my life and my calling to be.”
A journey that started in the Philippines
Candido’s long and unexpected journey to UC Davis began in a village two hours from Manila, in the Philippines. That’s where she and her twin sister were raised by a single-parent mother who tended to farm animals for a living. The family lacked health care access in their rural section of the island, so they relied heavily on prayers and folk medicine for healing, especially when Grandma Lola got sick.
They got a chance at a better life when Candido was 7 years old. That’s when the family’s immigrant visa petition submitted by Candido’s aunt in Modesto was approved. So, they packed all their belongings into a single suitcase, Candido strapped on her Mickey Mouse backpack, and they boarded an airplane to California.
Things were so different in Modesto, such as the sound of school bells, which Candido had not heard before. “There were a lot of things I had to get used to, plus learning English,” Candido said.
Betty Elvazian, a fourth-grade teacher, noticed something that Candido didn’t see in herself — a girl who was ambitious, focused and driven to learn. Elvazian promoted Candido to fifth-grade math. “That was the first time someone thought that I could accomplish something greater than what I was put in,” Candido said.
When Candido was 11, her family moved out of her aunt’s house and into her mother’s workplace — a residential care facility for the elderly. For the next seven years, Candido lived in a home with six senior citizens, sometimes helping her mom with the residents’ basic hygiene.
Candido referred to the residents as “my adoptive grandparents.” During her years at the care home, she learned how to speak with 911 operators in medical emergencies. She also experienced grief when an older person she was close to forgot Candido’s name. She felt even more grief when she walked into the resident’s room and noticed she had just died. “It felt like I lost her twice,” Candido recalled.
Some of the residents also reminded her of Lola, who died in the Philippines when Candido lived in the care home.
Candido developed a passion for caring for the older adults yet didn’t seriously consider pursuing a career in medicine. She didn’t think it was possible and had no idea how to get there. She also had never seen a Filipino doctor in the Central Valley.
Dreams dashed, then a big surprise
Candido graduated from Modesto High School and moved out of the care home to attend UC Davis. Early on, she envisioned herself becoming a doctor. But she struggled in school, then got sick for an extended period of time, and struggled even more.
“I didn’t know how to ask for help, and my family didn’t know how to navigate these things either, so I was feeling scared and ashamed of failing,” Candido said. “My mom crossed oceans to get me here, and I felt like it was a dishonor to even admit my failures.”
By her fourth year in college, with a GPA below 3.0, Candido considered pursuing a career as a researcher or earning a master’s degree in geriatrics. All the while, she volunteered at the H.L.U.B. student-run clinic, which serves Hmong residents, surrounded by high-achieving peers intent on becoming physicians.
“I will definitely not make it to medical school,” she said to herself. The phrase stuck.
Candido graduated in four and a half years and continued a job she had worked as an undergraduate, helping with psychiatry research at UC Davis Health for a project that uses telemedicine at skilled nursing homes.
But eventually, she started to open up about her shattered dream. And the feedback people provided shocked her. They told her she needed to be a doctor. The most encouraging words came from her research supervisor, psychiatrist Glen Xiong, who said:
“Someday there’s going to be a patient that will benefit from the lenses you have lived through, because you’re going to see something that nobody else is going to see in them, and that’s why we need you in medicine.”
After hearing that message, and others like it, Candido enrolled in a post-baccalaureate program. It would provide numerous science courses, a chance to overwrite sections of her undergraduate transcript and transform her into a more promising candidate on medical school applications.
“I reinvented myself,” Candido said.
Her program was based in the Bay Area, but she continued her job in the research lab at UC Davis and another job as a licensed health insurance broker. And she worked like crazy to keep up with her classes by studying, of all places, in vacant classrooms at the UC Davis School of Medicine. She was a constant presence in the Education Building, where she bumped into faculty members that she hoped would one day be her professors.
She finished the program with a 3.95 GPA.
Candido took her Medical College Admissions Test twice, which is not unusual for students seeking a higher score. She got accepted into a medical school in Michigan but held out for her top choice, UC Davis.
She is part of the REACH pathway, which provides students with extensive clinical experience in the Central Valley and where Candido plans to serve as a physician. She’s interested in geriatrics and also psychiatry.
Encouraging others through lived experience
The people who encouraged Candido to reconsider medicine are not surprised by her success.
“It was only natural for me to encourage Christi, with persistence, to consider a career as a future physician,” Xiong said. He hopes that after medical school Candido stays at UC Davis for one of its psychiatry training programs.
Candido’s fourth-grade teacher, Betty Elvazian, said, “I have always predicted she would be successful in life. My prediction for her was to either be a doctor, or the president of the United States.”
Candido is so grateful for the good things that have happened over the past year that she’s turned to Instagram to celebrate the successes with her nearly 1,500 followers. It’s her way of encouraging others to realize that if she can defy the odds, so can they.
She also provides “tips for success” in social media posts, and one-on-one mentorship at no cost to students across the country who seek her out for encouragement. The mentees, whom she meets with via Zoom, are typically the first in their family to attend college and they struggle academically.
Come Saturday, Candido’s journey will mark another milestone.
That’s when the School of Medicine holds its induction ceremony at Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis, an annual welcome program that is also known as the white coat ceremony. The program will be livestreamed on the school’s Facebook page.
But it’s the activity scheduled after induction that Candido is most excited about. She has rented a hall and organized a catered lunch for 68 of her closest supporters. She knows the banquet will put her into debt, but she won’t have it any other way.
“I’m throwing this luncheon to thank my village,” she said. “It took a long time, a lot of people, and endless encouragement to get me here today.”