“I Had it in My Hands and Then it Was Taken Away”
When he was a little boy in Venezuela, Yan Fernandez-Carvajal, ELMSN-FNP '23, remembers running from an old woman with tumors all over her body. “She had bumps all over her face, arms, and legs. At that moment, it was really frightening.”
The woman was among dozens of indigent people who visited his parents in the small town of San Juan de Los Morros seeking help, care, and free food and clothing. “Everyone in my town thought of them as social workers,” Yan says of his parents.
The experience shaped him. Yan decided to help people by going to medical school, which is where he learned why the woman had so many tumors.
“In medical school, my ophthalmology professor explained that this woman had a rare condition called Von Recklinghausen disease,” he says. “And he told us that the tumors were not only on her body but in her retina. I was relieved to finally understand what she was dealing with.”
At 22, Yan graduated from Rómulo Gallegos National Experimental University as a general practitioner. He then spent three years at the Hospital Miguel Perez Carreño, training to become a general surgeon.
Yan had hoped to build a practice in Venezuela, but the mounting political and economic instability in his country forced him to leave everything behind.
“Three times, people with handguns tried to rob me. One of my friends was shot to death as he was coming out of the movies. Another friend was pulled out of his car and killed, too,” Yan says. “I started to wonder, ‘Am I going to die.’”
In 2015, Yan immigrated to West Hollywood, California. He had no medical license in the U.S., so he worked as a house cleaner and then as a nursing home caregiver. He tried to take the medical exam to resume his career as a physician but lacked official university transcripts.
“It was heartbreaking,” he says, wiping away tears. “I had it in my hands and then, it was taken away.”
That’s when Yan and his husband, Ronald, discovered SMU’s Family Nurse Practitioner program. “My first intention was to become an RN, but when we saw the FNP program, I knew that this was something I could do.”
Yan was accepted into the FNP program in fall 2020 and received a $500 scholarship from SMU’s Latinx Legacy Committee and University Regent Taty Aguilera after struggling to make ends meet.
“The scholarship made a big difference,” says Yan, who relocated to the Bay Area to pursue his dream. “Every little bit helps.”
Last year, Yan rented a small room in Oakland while his husband worked in Vegas. This year, the two are back together.
“It was difficult,” he says. “We were separated but we were confident that we could get through it. And we did.”
Most importantly, Yan is excited about resuming a career that honors his parents.
“When it comes to medicine, it’s not just about having the technical or intellectual abilities, it’s about empathy,” he says. “That’s what my mom and dad taught me.”