Early Hands-on Exposure to Healthcare Changed My Future

By: Sonam Chozom, DPT ’19

Student Voices is a blog series written by SMU students. If you have an idea for a story, reach out to Sasha Solomonov at ssolo@samuelmerritt.edu. This article is written by Physical Therapy student Sonam Chozom.

Dalai Lama Foundation’s Graduate Scholarship Program, a competitive scholarship provided for Tibetan students studying in Europe, Australia or North America. After receiving the scholarship, I feel like I am on the path to fulling His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s aspiration that students of Tibetan descent pursue advanced studies.

My cultural upbringing is rooted in the Tibetan community and my personal experiences living in the United States play an important role in who I have become and aspire to be in the future. My hope to improve the human health experience dates back to early memories of my blind grandfather in Ladakh, India, when I saw firsthand what it means to struggle with limited access to healthcare and health disparities.

During my schooling at Oakland Technical High School, I learned about FACES for the Future Coalition, a nonprofit that prepares underserved youth for careers in healthcare, and I had the opportunity to be part of the program. FACES reignited my interest in a health career with the opportunity to intern at Oakland Children’s Hospital, academic support, and a scholarship before I started my undergraduate education at Mills College in Oakland. FACES really opened my eyes as a first-generation student to all of the educational possibilities and ingrained in me the value of hard work.

After completing my bachelor’s degree in biopsychology at Mills College, I took several gap years exploring my career path in the health field. Through volunteering, I saw the ability of physical therapists to build a human connection with patients in addition to their role in promoting physical fitness, augmenting bodily movement and wellness, and creating appropriate environmental adaptations to enhance independent function.

Despite my growing interest in PT, I was still in a dilemma of what I wanted to pursue. Through my connection with FACES, I connected with its co-founder, Dr. Tomás Magaña, who is like a mentor to me and provided further guidance and support that helped me decide to enroll in Samuel Merritt University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program.

This past fall, I had the great opportunity to connect with FACES again through the FACES/SMU mentorship program, the first FACES collaboration with PT students. My SMU classmates and high school students from Alameda High School built close relationships with each other by checking in weekly, going on fieldtrips, and participating in fun workshops on financial literacy. It was a rewarding experience and I hope to continue to be part of the next class as well.

With a goal of diversifying the health workforce, FACES serves as a platform to bring more underrepresented minorities into the medical field. Over the years, FACES has increased the opportunities it offers since I was in the program. As a student who struggled even after college to figure out my career path, I wished there had been a program like FACES to provide a continuity of services including mentorship, peer networks, access to academic support, and wellness resources in order for students to succeed.

FACES has grown from a single office in Oakland to a nationwide program, and in the future, I hope FACES continues to expand with resources to help underrepresented students succeed, creating a cycle of giving back to the community as healthcare providers and educators.

In my journey, I am forever grateful for the people who believed in me and supported me like Dr. Magaña and SMU’s DPT professors. They have helped me grow as a person and be able to continue with this program.

Now, I am excited about the next step in my journey when I will be traveling to Panama in August on a medical trip along with other SMU physical therapy, physician assistant and nursing students. 



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