Becoming a physician has always been Eduardo Castaneda’s goal. But the road for the Guatemala native to achieve his dreams would include multiple stumbling blocks.
“My brother and I were raised in an impoverished region of Guatemala where the school system was reserved for those of a higher socioeconomic status,” said Castaneda. “Instead of going to school, we assisted my mother who sold food out of her car to make ends meet.
Determined to provide her children a better life, Castaneda’s mom emigrated to the United States with him and his brother in 1998, settling in Los Angeles and later moving to the Appalachian region of North Carolina.
“My mother is my inspiration. I am so thankful for the sacrifices she made and instilling in us a good work ethic,” said Castaneda. “She also taught me the importance of thinking about my future.”
Following high school, he attended community college and then transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2012.
“Although, I earned my degree, I didn’t do well in the program and was looking for a way to position myself as an ideal candidate for medical school,” Castaneda said. “A friend recommended North Carolina Central University’s Clinical Research Sciences Certificate Program and my life was forever changed.”
Castaneda began the post-baccalaureate program in 2016 and thoroughly enjoyed NCCU’s community-based atmosphere of Latino and African American students, and support from professors like Shawn Sedlinger, Ph.D., and Fei Yan, Ph.D., who both teach in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
“I wouldn’t have gotten back on track if it wasn’t for NCCU. They cared about me as an individual and were committed to my success,” he said.
Following completion of the program, he worked as a certified nursing assistant to build up his clinical experience for medical school entry and a science teacher at Faith Point Academy in Cary, N.C., before returning to NCCU in 2020 for his master’s degree in biological and biomedical sciences.
During his master’s program, Castaneda conducted cancer research in the lab of Luke Chen, Ph.D., professor of biological and biomedical sciences.
“I am thankful for the discipline and courage Dr. Chen provided me because I needed it,” he said. “Alongside Dr. Ricardo Richardson and Dr. Julie Horvath, they did an excellent job mentoring me and showing me that attending medical school was possible.”
And, with his determination and supportive village, Castaneda has been accepted to four medical schools thus far.
“I plan to practice family medicine in the rural Appalachian region of the state,” he explained. “It’s important that the minority community in that area also have minority physicians as advocates.”
His advice for current and future Eagles?
“Network and get out of your comfort zone; ask for help; and find that one professor who will share information and open doors on your behalf.”