UNLV medical student Danielle Arceo seemed destined for a medical career from an early age.
One of seven children, she was just 4 when her slightly older sister died of leukemia. She remembers it as a difficult time for her close-knit family.
Her mother, who homeschooled the children, kept telling her daughter as a child that she should be a doctor because she wanted a first aid kit for Christmas when she was 11, and because she always carried a first aid kit in her handbag from the first time she carried a purse.
“I started seriously considering medicine when I was a senior in high school, Arceo said. “I wanted to do mission work internationally, so I started thinking about the fundamental interest in medicine I’d always had. I realized that the only reasons holding me back from the role of physician all boiled down to fear — fear of not being smart enough to be a doctor, fear of the time commitment of that pursuit, fear of the financial strains of the education. I finally decided that fear is not a good reason not to do something, so I changed my major to pre-med before starting college.”
A Las Vegas native who graduated from Pensacola Christian College in Florida, Arceo was homeschooled in the same three-bedroom house where her family still resides. “All of us siblings were close both literally and figuratively,” she laughed. Arceo said her stay-at-home mother, an engineer, believed homeschooling would be best after realizing a college classmate who had been homeschooled was able to engage in conversation with the professor more than any of her peers. She also said her parents wanted to homeschool their children so they could teach a worldview consistent with the Christian faith.
“One perspective people tend to have about homeschooling is that the kids don’t get socialized enough. I think that can certainly happen in some situations, but my experience with it was significantly different,” Arceo said. “I was involved in church and I worked.” She spent summers working as a lifeguard, and working part-time at In-N-Out Burger all through high school and undergraduate school to earn money for college. She also went to summer leadership camps and church missions to Mexico, while also participating in gymnastics class and with soccer teams at a recreation center.
A recent talk by Dr. Darrell Kirch, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, to UNLV School of Medicine students had an impact on Arceo, who is considering specializing in either psychiatry or pediatrics.
Kirch spoke about physician burnout, the high stress of academia, and his own struggle during medical school.
He said his anxiety and depression during his first year of medical school, nearly derailed his career because his fear of being judged negatively and the stigma associated with depression initially kept him from seeking help. Fortunately, he said, an empathetic administrator steered him to the treatment he needed.
“Don’t suffer in silence,” Kirch advised.
Arceo said she was impressed by Kirch’s presentation.
“The thing I appreciated most from Dr. Kirch was his discussion on mental health,” she said. “Even though culture as a whole is normalizing (struggles with) mental health, I believe there’s still a lot of stigma within the medical field about seeking help for things like depression and anxiety.
“The medical field harbors a lot of strong independent people. Who wants to admit that they’re burned out and struggling with the stressors their career choice involves? Having Dr. Kirch, a man who’s had an obviously successful medical career, share his story of his struggles with depression is basically the same as telling everyone, ‘Hey, it’s OK to be human.’ I’m human, and I’ve struggled with depression. It’s neat to see someone in leadership share that they’ve gone through a similar experience, too.”