UCLA celebrates 3 medical graduates who overcame extraordinary odds to be called ‘doctor’

David Geffen School of Medicine Hippocratic Oath Ceremony is June 1
Joe Torres

Some 200 students in the Class of 2018 will receive their medical diplomas on June 1 during the Hippocratic Oath Ceremony for the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Earning an MD requires unwavering focus and the stamina to survive grueling hours and demanding classes. It’s a tough journey for any student, but the following graduates overcame additional hurdles to achieve their dream of becoming a doctor. Each of them is enrolled in UCLA’s PRIME, a five-year program whose goal is to develop medical leaders dedicated to improving the lives of underserved patients. The program requires medical graduates to also earn a master’s in public policy, public health or business administration.

When Joe Torres was 8, he and his brother walked for three days across the hot Mexican desert to enter the United States without immigration documents. Growing up in Covina, he never saw a doctor or dentist and lived under constant fear of deportation. In 2010, the former DACA recipient married and became a legal resident, allowing him to attend UCLA for college and medical school. Now a U.S. citizen and the father of two young boys, Torres, 34, intends to use his firsthand experience and his master’s in public policy to help change the laws that restrict undocumented residents’ access to health care and education. For now, that means pursuing a residency in internal medicine at Olive View–UCLA Medical Center and using his policy expertise to advocate for underserved communities.

William Sheppard Jr.

In high school, William Sheppard Jr. sidestepped the pitfalls of gang life, drugs and violence common to his South Los Angeles community by studying hard and immersing himself in team sports. After graduating from UC Davis, though, he faced a stack of unpaid school loans. When the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA awarded him an all-expenses paid Geffen Scholarship, his mother cried with relief. Now 28, Sheppard will graduate with a combined MD and master’s of public health degree, and looks forward to returning to South Los Angeles after he completes a UCLA residency in orthopedic surgery. Citing his desire to serve as a role model to children in his community, he said, “I’m the person who’s going to be known as ‘Dr. Sheppard’ — and that will be a beautiful thing for my family and me.”

Angel Robinson

Growing up in Buena Park, Angel Robinson was no stranger to adversity. Her mother was a Taiwanese immigrant who worked as a waitress, and her father was a disabled veteran who struggled with mental illness. Inspired by her mom’s resilience, Robinson studied hard and refused to be discouraged by teachers who dismissed her as “the poor kid.” After graduating from UC San Diego, she worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer to combat the high teen pregnancy rate in Los Angeles and Orange County. While pursuing her MD and master’s of public health degree from UCLA and Johns Hopkins University, respectively, she became a Power to Decide fellow and advocated for affordable reproductive care in Washington, D.C. Now 29, Robinson will pursue an obstetrics/gynecology residency at White Memorial Hospital in Boyle Heights — not far from Roosevelt High, where she completed her AmeriCorps work. Completing the circle from reproductive health volunteer to gynecologist in the same neighborhood, she says, is  “like coming home.”


Dr. Atul Gawande will deliver the keynote address at the Geffen School of Medicine ceremony. Gawande is a practicing surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and staff writer for The New Yorker. Gawande has written four New York Times bestsellers, including “Being Mortal,” about dying and how doctors handle death.


Friday, June 1, 2018
5 – 7 p.m.


Dickson Court North, UCLA campus (map)


Spaces for oversized trucks are limited. Please RSVP to the media contact by 11 a.m. Friday to reserve a spot. Journalists arriving in passenger vehicles should enter campus at Westholme and Hilgard avenues, obtain a pass from the kiosk and park in Structure 2 (map).


Elaine Schmidt, UCLA Health Media Relations, [email protected], office 310-267-8323, cell 310-597-5767

Photos of each student and their families are available upon request.

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