By Paola Hornbuckle
Dr. Ricardo Sistos never imagined what life had in store for him when he played in the dry terrain of central Mexico, one of eight children of a poor shoemaker and his wife, a woman who had never stepped inside a classroom or received a formal education. Now he is a physician at Kaiser Permanente, his wife is a successful lawyer, and two of his children have attended Ivy League schools. The third is a musician on tour with Christina Aguilera.
Dr. Sistos radiates the happiness of a life well-lived and of struggle overcome by hard work and determination. “The spirit of the immigrant is incredible,” he said, referring to his driven mother who insisted her husband try to make it in the United States. She was determined to find a better way of life for their children. After leaving central Mexico the Sistos family spent five years in Tijuana waiting for the legal paperwork that would allow them to enter the United States to go through. It was in Tijuana that a crucial seed was planted in Dr. Sistos’ imagination, a seed that would eventually guide his life’s work and bear rich and abundant fruit.
“I was seeing a doctor. He was not particularly nice or friendly, but after seeing my report card he told me ‘You are smart. You could become a doctor,’ and from that moment on I have never wanted to be anything else,” said Sistos.
After his family entered the United States they settled in Los Angeles and the children endured the difficult process of learning English in a school system not yet set up with ESL and adapting to American culture. Inspired by their parents who were extremely hard-working, Dr. Sistos’ brothers and sisters proceeded to succeed and take advantage of all the benefits America had to offer. So far most of his brothers and sisters have received a college education and all are successful professionals.
Now, Dr. Sistos wants to inspire children and plant a few seeds himself. Saddened by the lack of participation from the Latino and African American communities in the medical establishment, he has created the Hippocrates Circle. The Hippocrates Circle is a program that encourages primarily minority middle school students to seriously consider medical school as an option. A group of students are selected through teacher recommendations, written essays, and expressed student interest. The students then participate in various activities that put them in close contact with doctors of various ethnicities. The doctors then proceed to bond with the students, open up about their struggles, fears, and obstacles in the road to becoming physicians.
“Doctors should represent the community they serve. We need more Latino and African American doctors. I want to plant a seed. If I did it, they can also do it. I want them to identify with us and to truly believe it is possible,” said Sistos.
The students make a pledge to study medicine, receive commemorative t-shirts, take tours of hospitals and university medical schools, and are well informed about the requirements they will need and the classes they must take in high school in order to be eligible for acceptance into medical school. At the end of the year they attend a graduating ceremony with their parents and the participating doctors.
The Hippocrates Circle has been active for two years. The first year they had 30 students participate, the second year 100 students joined the program. Sistos’ team has worked with the San Ysidro and Sweetwater school districts so far to great success. He has received very positive feedback from the students. Now all that is needed is time, to see if the seeds he planted will bear the precious fruit.
Asked if medicine has fulfilled him he answers, “It has been everything I expected it to be,” with an appreciative smile. Hopefully, life will be as sweet for the graduates of the Hippocrates Circle. If you would like to find out more information about the Hippocrates Circle, please call Maria Torres at 619-641-4061.