Health + Behavior

UCLA medical school graduates embody the American Dream

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Some 200 students will receive their diplomas on June 2 during the Hippocratic Oath Ceremony for the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Earning an M.D. requires grueling hours, demanding classes and unwavering focus. It’s a tough journey for any student, but the following students either overcame the additional challenges of immigration and adaptation to life in the United States — or witnessed those challenges in their parents’ lives. For them, the American Dream is no longer just a hope; it’s a reality.

Razmik Ghukasyan, 27, of North Hollywood, grew up in war-torn, post-Soviet Armenia, where food, water and electricity were scarce. In 2004, when he was 14, his family moved to the United States. No one spoke a word of English. Yet Ghukasyan progressed in high school from English-as-a-second-language classes to Advanced Placement classes, and graduated summa cum laude from UCLA. In medical school, he received a Leader of Tomorrow scholarship covering his entire education. He will graduate with from the concurrent degree program with his M.D. and M.B.A., enter a general surgery residency at UCLA, and pursue a career in surgical oncology in memory of his uncle, who died at 48 from late-stage pancreatic cancer.

Erica Tukiainen, 30, of Los Angeles, followed an untraditional path to medicine. The daughter of a Finnish mother and African-American father, Tukiainen was born in Helsinki and raised by her single mother. In 2000, her family moved from Finland, where everyone had blond hair and blue eyes, to ethnically diverse Los Angeles. For the first time, Tukiainen, 12, saw other people who looked like her. She spoke no English, but playing basketball provided her with a universal language and, ultimately, an athletic scholarship to UCLA, where she served as the captain of the women’s basketball team while completing her degree in French and premedical studies. Passionate about promoting exercise to fight obesity, she took a year off from medical school to pursue a master’s in public health at Harvard University. Shortly after entering a family-medicine residency at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, she will marry her fiancé, whom she met in medical school. Now a surgical resident at UC Irvine, Viktor is half-Russian and half-Nigerian, and he shares Tukiainen’s love of medicine, basketball and foreign languages.

Mostafa Al-Alusi, 26, of San Diego, was born to immigrants from Iraq. His father came to San Jose to attend college in the 1970s and met his mother in 1990, when Saddam Hussein briefly allowed international travel. Al-Alusi is among the first awardees of the David Geffen Scholarship and will graduate this year, debt-free. An observant Muslim who prayed five times a day while juggling classes and clinical rotations, Al-Alusi will enter an internal medicine residency at Massachusetts General. He is interested in exploring entrepreneurial opportunities in medical technology.

Janelle Rodriguez, 36, of Los Angeles, grew up listening to stories about how the Cuban revolution uprooted her parents’ lives, forcing them to leave everything and flee as political refugees. At 30, she similarly upended her life when she left her successful career as a biostatistician to enroll in medical school. The decision paid off when she earned a prestigious Albert Schweitzer Fellowship to work with teen mothers in East Los Angeles. After graduating UCLA with degrees in medicine and public health, she will pursue a residency in family medicine at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles.

Bryan Lam, 26, of West Hollywood, was born in San Diego to Vietnamese refugees who crossed the sea on rickety boats after the fall of Saigon. As a child, he spent each weekend working in his mother’s beauty salon to help support his family. At UCLA, he led the Medical Gay and Lesbian Organization, where he mentored LGBT pre-med undergraduate students. He recently returned from Thailand, where he helped educate gay men about HIV prevention. He will pursue a residency in internal medicine at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles and aims to provide care for LGBT communities in the future.

WHEN

5 to 7 p.m. Friday, June 2

WHERE

Perloff Courtyard, 365 Portola Plaza, north of Dickson Court (map)

PARKING

Spaces for oversized trucks are extremely 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.

Media Contact