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Thursday, January 17, 2019 - 2:30pm

While growing up, first in the Dominican Republic and then after his parents moved the family to Bayonne, New Jersey, Mike Berrios, B.S. ’16 had plenty of role models and supportive family members to encourage his studies and career aspirations. Yet in high school he struggled, dropping out during sophomore year to help support his unemployed mother, now widowed.

The fact that Berrios, 26, is now a second-year medical student at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine, has a teaching position there and is considering a career in internal medicine or surgery, is one of those transformative stories that exemplify the quintessential Mercy College student.

Berrios earned his GED while working full time as a dishwasher, but he was far from fulfilled. A counselor, who noticed Berrios’ high scores on aptitude tests, strongly recommended college. Once his family situation had stabilized, he enrolled at community college, trying to find his niche. “I ended up switching majors several times before taking an elective in biology. I fell in love with the material, and just ran with it,” he recalls. “I started taking college seriously, and really buckled down.”

Berrios’ passion for the biological sciences became so compelling that he sought out volunteer jobs and internships in the medical field. “The more I was exposed to medicine, the more I wanted to become a doctor,” he says. He enrolled in Mercy’s pre-med program, taking organic chemistry, biochemistry and physics. “Mercy’s small classes were perfect for me, and my professors pointed me in the right direction and helped every step of the way,” he recalls.

Yet he still needed convincing. “I’d planned to take a year off after graduating from Mercy, but one of my classmates convinced me to apply for medical school, even though it was really late in the cycle and many had already closed their applications.” That summer Berrios applied to five medical schools while volunteering in the cancer research lab of Dr. George Miller at New York University.

When he learned he’d been accepted at SUNY Downstate, he did a double take. Then he started calling people. His mom, his girlfriend, his family in the Dominican Republic. “They were like, Yeah! We knew you could do it!”

The most challenging part of medical school? For Berrios, surprisingly, it’s not the need to absorb vast amounts of information or the grueling hours of study. “It’s trying to balance studying and spending time with the people I love,” says Berrios. “When you’re under the gun, it’s easy to neglect loved ones. But being around loved ones is so rejuvenating it actually helps me with my studies.”

Best of all, he says, is working with patients. “Downstate allows a lot of clinical exposure even in the preclinical years, letting us do physical examinations and taking histories,” says Berrios. “I love that interaction, which is my whole reason for becoming a doctor. If you’ve always got your face in the books you can lose sight of that.”

To sum it up, Berrios believes he has found his true calling, something he was born to do. “In my family there are college graduates and professionals — orthopedic surgeons, plastic surgeons and lawyers. All of them rose out of extremely poor beginnings and had to put in a lot of hard work to get where they are today. I think their example inspired me. So in a way it was always inside me.”