FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Richard Ramirez had a good career with a structural engineering group, making good money and having room for advancement.

Still, he wasn’t satisfied.

“Looking toward my future, I didn’t see a personal satisfaction in that job,” Ramirez said, adding that he enjoys the work.

He realized he did get that feeling of personal satisfaction while he and his wife, Rachel Soumokil, were foster parents. He noticed the mental and physical challenges the children in their care had, and began looking into the medical field. He volunteered at Flagstaff Medical Center to see if the field appealed to him. His dream has been to help people, and a physician appealed to him the most because physicians weren’t restricted in the help they could give.

“And I was sold immediately,” Ramirez said. So, he began researching what he had to do to get into medical school. “That was the one when I felt it was apparent to me I could impact the lives of more people.”

He said later, “I felt helpless when fostering because there are just things you can’t do or don’t have the training to do. I wanted a role that had as few limitations on what I could do as possible, and physician offered me that.”

He needed a bachelor’s degree to start, and Coconino Community College offered evening classes so he could continue to work full time. He enrolled and graduated with an Associate of Science in 2016. During his time at CCC, Ramirez and Soumokil maintained high marks to be officers for the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He was even CCC Science Student of the Year in 2016. He continued onto Northern Arizona University, where he continued to excel, graduating in May 2018 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science, and was a Gold Ax winner.

Pediatric psychiatry is his main interest, because being a foster parent gave him insight into the challenges children and families face. He said he believes he could have his largest impact in this field.

Ramirez said he has spent the summer applying to medical schools across the country – about 45 in total. He added that odds of getting in at an individual school hover around 5 percent, but he’s hopeful his grades and admission test scores give him a better than average chance of getting in to one or several of them.

But, if the worst happens and he doesn’t get into medical school, he has a career track he’s on, and he will reapply in a few years before looking at other options. Additionally, he can step up his community involvement to feel some of that satisfaction in life he believes he’s missing.

Ramirez said it was CCC where that journey to realizing a dream kicked off. He enjoyed the support from the faculty, and their desires to see students succeed. He still keeps in contact with many of his instructors at CCC.

As for people who might want to change careers and do something more impactful with their lives but are hesitant, Ramirez has some advice:

“I would really encourage them to look into their local community college,” Ramirez said. “They have classes that are online. They have classes that are in the evenings, where you can take a class here and there just to see … if it’s really something you want to make that jump to.”

He added: “What I found was that it was an amazing experience … Try it. Take a few classes, and see what happens.”