First female CFCA doctor graduates in Guatemala
March 1, 2011
Maria Cristina, left, receives her medical
degree at her graduation ceremony in
Maria Cristina was born 28 years ago in an urban area of Guatemala City, Guatemala. She and her four brothers and sisters grew up in poverty. Her father abandoned the family, leaving her mother to struggle to provide basic necessities for her children.
By all accounts, Maria Cristina should not have graduated from school or successfully completed her medical degree. She should have been one of the 60-plus percent of Guatemalan youth who drop out of school by the sixth grade (World Bank education statistics).
But Maria Cristina is unique. She willed her childhood dreams into reality. This is even more significant given that she is a woman and a member of the indigenous population in Guatemala. This story has a happy ending.
Steppingstones to success
Maria Cristina was sponsored through CFCA in 1993 in fourth grade. She immediately began receiving benefits, most importantly educational support. This would be the steppingstone to her future career.
She had always liked the idea of being a doctor, and by the end of her primary schooling, she had decided to pursue that dream.
“I admired the capacity of being able to make a person feel better,” Maria Cristina said. “My mother and sister asked me, on many occasions, if I was sure that I could do it to the end. In spite of not knowing anything about the course of studies and all the difficulties involved, they always supported me.”
Milestones for Maria Cristina
1993: Sponsored as a fourth-grader.
2000: Earned bachelor’s degree in
sciences and letters.
2001: Began studying at the
University of San Carlos in Guatemala
to be a doctor and surgeon.
2008: Awarded a scholarship from the
CFCA Scholarship Program to
provide additional assistance with
2010: Graduated as a doctor and
A medical degree can take a total of seven years to complete: six years for curriculum studies, with an additional year for testing and thesis writing. Since classes are sequential and only offered annually, failing a class sets a hopeful candidate back a year.
Her quest for her degree was not without adversity. In her first year at the university, she failed biology, fundamental physics and biostatistics; in her second, physiology and biochemistry.
Maria Cristina took all those courses again from scratch so her previous course grades would not be on her transcript. She passed the rest of her classes without any problems until her graduation Sept. 9, 2010.
Capacity to help others
In her fourth year of studies, something changed in Maria Cristina. At first, school was exciting because she was learning so much — how the body is organized, physiologic reactions to stimuli, etc. That excitement settled into something deeper.
“I realized that this profession did not only generate in me a great passion but also great satisfaction and happiness,” she said. “It is something difficult to explain, why I liked it from the time I was young, I don’t know ... I liked the ring of the title 'Doctor' ... but today, I know that I like what I do because it gives me the capacity to help, to be useful, to make lives better and to generate smiles.”
Maria Cristina credits sponsorship as a key to her success.
Dr. Maria Cristina checks on a patient in the private
nursing home where she works.
“It gave me the great satisfaction of meeting many people from other countries in meetings that I attended," she said, "and left me two great persons in my life: my sponsors, who even though I have never met them in person, I regard as part of my family.”
Today, Maria Cristina works at a home for children and adults, where she treats patients, attends childbirths and assists in surgical operations, among other general practitioner duties. But Maria Cristina did not forget her roots, or those people who helped her achieve her goal.
She has shared her story and gratitude with mission awareness trip participants and during CFCA conferences. She addressed new graduates at a convocation hosted by CFCA. And she offered her first services as a doctor to sponsored children in a CFCA community, joined by a group of her colleagues.
Maria Cristina’s presence in CFCA communities offers more than just her medical expertise. She is a role model for those children living in poverty — children like her — and a strong example to young girls that they can achieve whatever they may dream.
(Read Maria Cristina’s final letter to her sponsor.)