Walk into Greathouse Physical Therapy in Summerlin and strike up a conversation with Mindy Polk, a physical therapy assistant (PTA), and it’s quite possible you’ll hear that a teacher she truly admired in her Carrington College training program was a PTA by the name of Marvi Moreno.
“He’s so passionate about healthcare, so confident in what he does,” she says of the man who also earned his associate’s degree at the Las Vegas school. “He’s respected by everyone. He let us know very clearly that we had to do right by the patient.”
At the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, we know Polk’s former teacher as Marvi Moreno, a class of 2024 student. Ann Diggins, student affairs and career services director, describes him as “Such an involved student and very professional and fun-loving at the same time…We all love Marvi.”
Moreno, a native of the Philippines who lived with his mother, father, and sister in a tiny one-bedroom casita in Las Vegas when he immigrated to the United States in 2010, is now on the verge of entering one of the world’s most respected professions. It is a story of admirable calculation, love of family, and irrepressible determination; the story of a man who, as PTA Polk noted, has uncommon confidence, who for two decades just knew he’d be on the road to training as a physician one day even though money, or rather the lack of it, threw up the kind of detours that often result in a head-on crash with crushing economic reality.
“You just have to keep pushing,” says Moreno. "You can’t give up. Patience is important. What you dream about will happen if you keep working, you just don’t know the trajectory of when it’s coming.”
Moreno was born in Batangas, two hours south of Manila. His father, approved for immigration to the U.S. where part of his family already lived, moved to the U.S. for better economic opportunities shortly after Marvi was born. He sent money back to the family to live on and visited them each year for around a month. The rest of the family wasn’t able to emigrate for nearly 20 years.
Moreno says there has never been a doubt in his mind that he would become a physician after he participated in a medical laboratory science outreach program during his year at Lyceum of the Philippines University. That program saw him work with doctors trying to help the impoverished deal with unsanitary living conditions.
He and other students would collect and analyze stool samples from people who lived in a struggling rural community where defecation in open places was commonplace, posing a threat to the safety of food and drinking water. According to the country’s National Sewerage and Septage Management Program, around 55 people die every day in the Philippines from diseases related to inconsistent treatment of sewage.
“As part of the program, we collaborated with doctors who provided treatment and counseling to those who tested positive for disease,” Moreno says. “The impact that the physician had on these families – they were so thankful for being able to feel better – was so significant and unique that I aspired to make that kind of difference in people’s lives too...I was convinced that being a physician is what I wanted to do. To be trusted with someone’s health is such a privilege.”
Moreno, his mother, and sister, received clearance to immigrate to the U.S. as the country struggled to leave the Great Recession that had caused rising unemployment, falling home values, and a decline in the stock market. While his grandparents had made a one-bedroom casita available for the four members of his family, Moreno knew the situation would eventually be untenable because of the lack of space.
While completing a four-year pre-med program would get him into a medical school sooner, Moreno realized he had to go to work immediately for the entire family, not just himself. The nation’s economic situation had pushed his father into a minimum wage bracket.
“I had to think about my family,” Moreno says. “My father and mother had done so much for us.” Moreno got a customer service job at J.C. Penney. It worked well for him, he recalls, partly because it was on the bus line and he could get to his job without spending too much time walking.
At Penney’s, he soon found out again how much he wanted a career in medicine. “As I was closing my register one night, I heard a succession of loud thuds. I looked over at the escalator and that’s when I saw an older gentleman lying at the bottom of the escalator after losing his balance. He was stunned, just staring. I felt like a switch had turned on. I sprinted towards the man while telling my co-worker to call 911 and get the first aid kit. There was blood gushing from multiple sources on his body. I applied pressure on his forehead while also elevating his arm. The man looked at me and shakily said, ‘Thank you.’ The emergency medical services arrived and took over. After what happened, I became even more convinced that taking care of people in medicine was the path destined for me.”
The job at Penney’s was working out but he still wanted exposure to healthcare, to have a healthcare connection to assist people who needed help. A two-year program, he decided, where he could take classes around his work schedule, that was on the bus line, would give him the training needed to become a PTA. “I knew the ability to impact someone’s life in physical therapy would provide me with a sense of achievement – not as much as a physician, but every patient encounter I would have would help prepare me for work later as a physician.” And finishing the program quickly, he calculated, would also allow him to help his family even more because higher-paying jobs were in the healthcare sector.
Moreno’s calculations were on the mark. He enjoyed working with patients and graduation from the PTA program, where he also worked at the school on a federal work-study program, gave him far more opportunities in the job market. Soon he was working full-time as a PTA and also part-time in multiple settings that would include outpatient, hospital, skilled nursing and home health positions. He also took a job as an adjunct instructor at the school. Seventy-hour work weeks and more became the norm.
“With my savings, I was able to buy my family a house,” Moreno says. “That was a great day.”
Moreno backed off his work schedule just a tad to also pick up a bachelor’s degree in technical management with a concentration in healthcare services from DeVry University, where his credits from Carrington College transferred. “I got a scholarship to DeVry for the program that I was sure would help me increase my knowledge in the business of healthcare, and help me play an informed role in the day-to-day operation of a medical practice.”
In 2016, six years after he arrived in Las Vegas, Moreno felt comfortable enough with his family situation to concentrate completely on his goal of becoming a physician. Over the next three and a half years, his money from work went to pay for pre-med science courses from UNLV. “Things were stable enough at home,” he says. “My mom and dad had stable jobs, my sister became a radiologic technologist in a hospital. Things were good.”
In 2019, at the age of 26, he applied for entrance into the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV. He says he’ll never forget the phone call from Dr. Sam Parrish, then the head of admissions, who told him he’d been accepted and could start medical school in 2020. “I didn’t know how to react. It seemed surreal. Obviously, I said thank you and was happy, but so much went through my mind. So many detours to deal with.”
He says the Engelstad Foundation scholarship that now takes care of his tuition is a huge blessing. “I just concentrate on medicine, not where I’m going to get the money to pay for school. I’m so thankful.”
To Moreno, the long hours of study he puts in during medical school are pure joy.
“I just love all of it, can’t believe how satisfying it feels to be here. I’m having the best time of my life. Every day I wake up motivated to learn how to be the best physician I can be…I can tell you that sometimes detours on the way to where you want to go can be a good thing.”