Born in Guatemala to a Salvadorian father and Mexican mother, Nicte and her family moved to Mexico when she was seven to escape Guatemala’s political instability. The family eventually relocated to Michigan and then back to Mexico. “Everywhere we lived, there was this constant imbalance of inequity. Poverty and its effects, including the disparities in healthcare, were evident to me from a very young age. So, growing up, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer to help people.”
A standardized high school test proved otherwise. “Late in high school, we were required to take an aptitude test. The results showed that I should think about a career in medicine. I had never really thought about being a doctor. I don’t like needles, and I’m afraid of blood. But, the son of my mom’s coworker was going to medical school. He invited me to shadow him in the ER one night, and the experience transformed my path.”
Nicte applied and was accepted to the Monterrey Institute of Technology in Mexico.
She was initially drawn to pediatrics but changed course after shadowing a neurologist. “In Mexico, you go from high school to medical school and don’t do undergrad. It’s six years plus a year of community service. For four of those years, I wanted to be a pediatrician. Then, during clinical rotations. I was matched with a neurologist to shadow him in clinic.”
Nicte immediately fell in love with neurology. She looked forward to neurology rounds and diagnosing patients and treatments. “One of my mentors said, if you want to be a neurologist, you should train in the U.S. I spent some time at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, a month at Johns Hopkins, and a month at Mass General (MGH). I fell in love with MGH. I thought it was a wonderful place to learn, where people cared deeply about each other and their patients. It was clear that they always wanted to do whatever was best for patients and their families.”
After her time at MGH, Nicte returned to Mexico for a year of community service. “I was living inside a tiny community health center in a rural village overseeing the health of about 6,000 people. I was responsible for prenatal care, diabetes management, accident response, you name it. Working as a team with an amazing group of community health workers was critical. Some of my patients lived within walking distance, while others lived miles away without access to public transportation. My car couldn’t get through the terrain, so I had to ask the police to take me to the farms to see my patients.”
Nicte’s year of community service in Mexico solidified her commitment to community health and neurology. Back in Houston, Nicte worked as a clinical research coordinator at Baylor College of Medicine, studying Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and other movement disorders. Before she could apply to a residency program in the U.S. she took the United States medical licensing exams. She applied to MGH and was very excited to be invited to be part of the neurology program.