Asked why he decided to provide tuition assistance for medical student Antonio Olivarez during his four years at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, Michael Mertens said, “I feel I’m at a time in my life when I need to give back.”
He added: “I have had the opportunity to meet Antonio in person on several occasions and it’s wonderful to see my gift come alive in him. I had forgotten what it was like to be so young and enthusiastic. Reconnecting with my alma mater through Antonio has been an incredible experience.”
Mertens is a retired diagnostic radiologist who practiced in Reston, Va., before retiring. Prior to that, he served as an associate professor at Georgetown University Hospital. Mertens graduated from the Keck School in 1965, and after completing his internship in radiology, he joined the Air Force and became a flight surgeon, along with classmate George Stoneman, associate clinical professor for the Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery at the Keck School. Mertens currently lives in McLean, Va.
Olivarez, a second-year medical student at the Keck School, is very grateful for the financial and moral support he has received from Mertens. Olivarez grew up in San Jose with his parents and three younger sisters.
“I come from a culturally traditional Mexican-American family,” Olivarez said. “My parents immigrated to the United States from Michoacán, México, and I’m the first in my family to go to college — and medical school for that matter.”
Olivarez, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in neurobiology, physiology and behavior from the University of California, Davis, added: “Many of my personal, family and college experiences shaped my desire to pursue the career of medicine. I’m attending medical school because I have an internal obligation to serve low-income Latino communities in dire need of medical assistance. In today’s society, there’s a cultural and economic gap that plagues patients who are either economically disadvantaged or are immigrants from other countries.
“As a Spanish-speaking Latino who grew up in a Mexican household, I feel that I can be an asset in the promotion of accessible health care assistance to underrepresented minorities,” he continued. “As a future physician, I plan to practice clinical medicine as a primary care physician with an emphasis in working within underserved communities.”
Olivarez is a member of the Chicano/Latino Medical Student Association at the Keck School, which has fulfilled his desire to mentor young Latinos interested in a career in medicine.
“If it weren’t for the support system and inspiration of my medical student mentors, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today,” he said. “I’m exceedingly grateful and appreciative.”