Dr. Juárez's Pathway:
Where were you born and raised? What is your favorite part of your hometown?
I am the second of five proud children to Mexican immigrant farmworkers and was born in a small town called Bainbridge and raised in a nearby farmworker camp in deep rural southwest Georgia. During my middle school years, my family then moved to nearby Bainbridge, GA, a town of around 12,000 folks. One of the many things that I enjoy about the small-town life is its peace and tranquility, especially nowadays living in the hustle and bustle of a global city like Los Angeles. The adage “it takes a village…” is certainly true in this setting, especially in my case. Many community members from all walks of life played a role in my upbringing: becoming the first Hispanic valedictorian of rural public high school in 2010, attending the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York before leaving after changing my career goals, and eventually going to Harvard University, where I graduated with a BA in neurobiology in 2015 and became the first person in my entire family history to graduate from college. Every time I visit the sleepy town of Bainbridge, I’m reminded of how fortunate I was to grow up in a town where folks often look out for each other.
What motivates you in your work in neurology?
Ultimately, all my motivation traces back to my beloved Mexican-immigrant parents. Both of my folks grew up as the oldest of ten each in the rural mountainside (“el rancho” in Mexican slang) of the State of Mexico, Mexico. They each had to quit their education in elementary school to support their families through sustenance farming. They ended up immigrating to the US in the late 1980s with essentially nothing and were fortunate enough to make ends meet as farmworkers early on. My father continues to work as a farmworker, albeit as an agricultural equipment operator; nevertheless, both my father and mother continue to offer their unwavering support despite not having much to offer.
What specific areas of neurology are you interested in? Why?
I’m still undecided about where I want to lead my career in neurology. As far as potential fellowships go, I’m considering headache, the National Clinician Scholars Program (or equivalent), or even neuroimmunology. I may opt not to pursue a fellowship altogether. Regardless of my trajectory, I will continue to champion DEI efforts, work to improve healthcare disparities (especially within the Latinx and farmworker communities), and engage in advocacy efforts through public policy or public service.
What are some influential moments in your career journey? How did these help you get to where you are today?
There are too many to count! However, I will offer one notable event that ultimately planted to seed for my decision to pursue a medical career and, consequently, a career in neurology. As mentioned above, my family and I didn’t grow up with much, and that includes good access to healthcare. My earliest exposure to the medical field was as a young child through the Emory Farmworker Project (EFP) in the late 1990s. Seeing various healthcare workers – doctors, residents, physician assistants, nurses, etc – care for farmworkers, like my parents, at the migrant camp where I lived at the time was eye-opening to me. So much so that I soon volunteered for the EFP during high school, college, and to this day whenever I can. This Project opened the gates to my interest in medicine as a whole and served as a prelude to the many health disparities that exist amongst farmworkers, Latinx, and Black (especially in rural region) individuals in the Deep South – directly playing into the disparities seen in neurology (i.e. the South being dubbed the Stroke Belt).
What advice would you give to your younger self at the start of your career?
Do your best not to compare yourself to others – rather, compare yourself to who you were yesterday and the day before! Doing so will mitigate imposter syndrome and will help you focus on yourself and what you’re truly passionate about in your career.
What is your favorite part of your career at UCLA?
Besides the obvious amenities that Los Angeles offers (optimal year-round weather, an array of things to do, robust demographics, global city, etc.), UCLA fosters a supportive, diverse, and familial environment in which to learn, work, and live. Time and time again, my residency program leadership and co-residents have demonstrated unwavering support in our wellness and endeavors. Additionally, as an avid sports enthusiast, I thoroughly enjoy rooting for UCLA in big-time college athletic events!
How do you spend your time outside of work? What is your favorite hobby?
I’m a sports fanatic, so outside of residency, I’m constantly keeping up with the latest in college football (Go UGA Bulldogs!), college basketball (Duke basketball!), NBA (Lebron James!), baseball, etc. Every now and then, I try to play Ultimate Frisbee or pickup basketball, but running comprises most of my physical activity. I’ve run a few marathons and half-marathons in the past, and I’m hoping to get back on it! I also enjoy Latin dancing, such as reggaeton, salsa, cumbia, bachata, and merengue!
What is a professional goal that you are working towards now?
Completing residency training and learning as much as I can from my patients, peers, and UCLA faculty! My hope is to become the best the neurologist that I can be during residency so that I can set myself up for success in fellowship and/or as a neurology attending.