Distinguished Alumni Award recipient finds purpose in medical journey despite setbacks

Alumni Award recipient

Meet Melissa S., a West Coast University alumna and recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award with multiple degrees in the health sciences.

In 2019, Melissa earned her Master of Public Health degree from WCU. Currently, she is attending medical school to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a doctor.

Reflecting on her educational journey, Melissa recalled failing her undergraduate anatomy course, only to later retake it and achieve the second-highest grade in the class. This experience not only strengthened her confidence in pursuing her education; it initiated a passion for medicine.

“Failure is beautiful because it teaches you how strong you are,” she said. “If you really want it, keep fighting for it.”

Her path to higher education was paved with dedication and a thirst for knowledge. It had been eight years since Melissa earned her undergraduate degree when she began the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at WCU in 2019.

“West Coast gave me that first ‘yes’ and the opportunity to earn my higher education,” Melissa said. “The university gave me a chance when getting your foot in the door was hard.”

Melissa’s journey was not without its share of setbacks and health concerns. Battling through surgeries and personal hardships, including a cancer scare, she emerged stronger and more ambitious than ever.

Although Melissa always wanted to pursue medicine, earlier in life, she could not give it the effort it deserved while working full-time and caring for her family.

“I am turning 40 and starting medical school this year,” she said. “That’s terrifying, but I will do it anyway because I’ve always wanted to.”

Melissa’s goals have also extended beyond academics. For over a decade, she dedicated herself to “Flying Samaritans,” a volunteer organization comprised of professionals who provide healthcare services at no charge to the people in Baja California, Mexico who otherwise have no access to medical care.

“Volunteering my time serving with Flying Samaritans brought reason to everything I ever wanted to do,” Melissa said. “Those were some of the best days of my life.”

Over the years, Melissa became a leader within the nonprofit organization, training younger students and running triage.

“People would drive an hour to see us and receive free medical care,” she said. “The goal was to teach the undergrads if this was something they were meant to do.”

Melissa is proud to be a WCU alumna, representing her education in all she continues to accomplish.

“It’s essential to know where you came from, and I will always shout out West Coast,” Melissa said. “If it weren’t for WCU, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Melissa’s journey from setbacks to success reminds us that anything is possible with unwavering dedication and steadfast determination.

“I encourage every student to pursue their dreams relentlessly,” Melissa said. “Life may be a beautiful disaster, but it’s up to us to navigate through it and emerge stronger on the other side.”

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.