“It was really about figuring out if I could balance it without compromising their childhood,” she says. “It’s not just me deciding what I’m going to do for me. Every decision I make affects six people.”
Hernandez saw Selkirk College had a lot to offer. And now, ready to start her second year of the Rural Pre-Medicine Program, she knows she’s on the right path.
Santanna Hernandez has embraced Selkirk College campus life while studying in the Rural Pre-Medicine Program with dreams of becoming a doctor serving remote communities.
The woman of Liidlii Kue Aboriginal ancestry has found her calling in a program designed to put rural and Aboriginal medical professionals in rural communities. Her goal is to practice medicine in remote communities, coming in as a locum ready to help out.
Hernandez grew up with a myriad of medical mysteries and a series of broken bones that had her in many doctors’ offices. She developed admiration for the profession and continues to have strong relationships with MDs today as she takes care of her children’s health.
She also experienced how rural patients can struggle. Hernandez has lived in many small northern communities where travel to see a family doctor is the norm. She experienced being transferred to a larger centre to await the birth of her third child, leaving her Ft. Nelson home behind a month early due to the potential for complications. She also witnessed Aboriginal patients from small communities outside Prince George experience prejudice.
“I want to change that. I want to help as many people as I can. For me, it was a very personal choice to focus on rural medicine. The goals of this program and the path they are helping people take, I stand behind. It’s why I chose to study here,” Hernandez says.
But Hernandez didn’t cruise right into a pre-med program. She didn’t challenge herself in high school thinking that college and university were financially out of reach for her. She took a flight attendant course straight out of high school but never took to the sky. Instead she met her husband, Diego and started on her dream of having a young family.
Transitioning into College with Upgrading Support
When her second daughter started kindergarten, Hernandez looked to her future as a working mom with a career for herself and began Adult Basic Education (now called Upgrading) courses at the Trail campus.
“It was great having ABE. It helped me transition from being out of school for so long to jumping into a program like Rural-Pre Med,” she says.
Hernandez built strong relationships with Selkirk College faculty and staff on the Trail campus, a stable support system that carried her forward in her academic career at Selkirk College.
From early on, Hernandez embraced college life. So thankful for her Upgrading experience, she volunteered to speak at Get Connected in Trail in 2015. Hernandez also wanted to give back to the student body and the college through serving on Selkirk College Education Council.
“I truly enjoy embracing the communities I am a part of and serving in any way possible,” she says.
Her son becoming interested in hockey, Hernandez takes her children, Chailin, 8, Jade, 7, Preston, 5, and Paige, 3, to the Selkirk Saints games and enjoys mingling with the college cheering section.
And then there is the Gathering Place, a new facility on the Castlegar campus devoted to enhancing services, providing a welcoming and supportive environment to Aboriginal learners. It’s Hernandez’s peaceful place, a place to connect with new friends, elders or smudge if she’s having a stressful day.
“I don’t even know if I would survive without the Gathering Place. If I am not in class, this is where I am,” she says. “There is a sense of calm of being in there.”
It can get overwhelming for the young mom. Until recently, her husband, Diego, worked away. But she relies on her support system, her family and friends, in Trail. Hernandez first lived in Trail at age 15 and after many moves, has settled back in the Kootenays. Her husband now works near home as she begins her second year of RPM.
“This worked out well considering my next semester at school is going to be the biggest challenge of my life,” she laughs.
Empowered with Education
Hernandez was one of 17 Selkirk College students to receive sponsorship from the Okanagan Training & Development Council which helps the single income family afford post-secondary schooling.
“They empower you with your education,” she says.
When she finishes the three-year program at Selkirk College, Hernandez will apply to medical school. Already having her eye on locations and schools, it’s another big decision she will make with her family in mind. Already weighing options, availability of dance and hockey programs for kids weigh just as heavy as university program reputation.
Turning 30 in November, Hernandez engages with the people around her, puts herself out there and works hard. Coming soon to a doctor’s office near you… with a little help from Selkirk College.