Defying the Odds: From Troubled Youth to Promising Surgical Resident

We’re highlighting our Class of 2024 students in advance of Commencement 2024 on May 11. Stay connected with the Miller School of Medicine on social media for more student profiles and to follow along for live Commencement coverage.

Miller School graduate Christopher Vasquez in his commencement gown

Growing up in the Bronx, Christopher Vazquez, M.D. `24, couldn’t imagine himself attending medical school and becoming a physician.

He had good role models. His parents, both from low-income households, achieved success.

“My mother went to college and worked in marketing,” said Vazquez. “My father served in the U.S. Navy, then 20 years as a New York City firefighter.”

Still, Vazquez, 34, had a rough childhood. Due to family issues, he bounced around, attending five different high schools which, he said, negatively affected his academic performance.

“I got involved with some bad influences,” he admitted.

As a teen, Vazquez fell in love with boxing.  He spent a year training for a sport that requires discipline, grit and determination.

“It taught me how to confront significant obstacles in life with patience and resilience,” he said, and instilled confidence and “an insatiable desire to relentlessly pursue future passions.”

Relocation to Florida upended his training and foiled his boxing career before his first fight. But boxing had already changed him.

I try to remember where I came from. I could not have imagined being in this position today.

– Christoper Vasquez

“If life could be described as a house,” he said, “amateur boxing is the foundation that gave me courage.”

Inspired by his father’s military service, Vazquez joined the United States Marine Corps in 2009. After completing a grueling, three-month selection course, he served for five and one-half years in a special ops unit. Deployed on ships that responded to conflicts, he traveled in small units of six to eight soldiers, observed enemy targets and reported information to improve understanding of the battlefield.

“This turned my life around,” he said. Working in the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Israel and Jordan, “I was surrounded by selfless, driven, committed individuals.”

An Opportunity to Serve

Miller School graduate Christopher Vasquez in his white coat
Miller School graduate and Mass General resident Christopher Vasquez.

After the Marines, Vazquez enlisted in the National Guard and attended Pomona College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology. Initially he planned to work as a medic in the U.S. Army.

“Exposed to combat casualty care,” he said, “I saw an opportunity to serve my community in a significant, meaningful and challenging way.”

He decided to apply to medical school.

In the summer of 2019, before his first semester at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Vazquez participated in one of the school’s Pathway Programs, which gives students from underrepresented backgrounds an opportunity to get a taste of medical school.

“You got to see doctors from similar backgrounds,” he said. “You saw people who looked like you.”

He says that the two-month program fostered a sense of confidence. He knew he could tackle medical school. And he did.

Next stop for Vazquez: a general surgery residency at Mass General.

“I’m truly fortunate to be in this position, given my teenage years and everything that occurred,” he said. “I try to remember where I came from. I could not have imagined being in this position today.”

Tags: commencement, commencement 2024, medical education