Cindy Ramirez was 8 years old when her sister was injured in a sledding accident that broke her sacrum, a pelvic bone that supports the weight of the upper body.
“I was really nervous, but all I could think about in that moment was how I could help her,” said Ramirez, now a senior at the University of Mary Washington. “That was when I realized I wanted to pursue a career in medicine.”
This future physician is on her way to earning her white coat and stethoscope. An honors student majoring in biology, Ramirez has spent countless days and pulled all-nighters in the Jepson Science Center, memorizing organs, muscles and bones – like the one her sister broke – which will be essential when she attends medical school.
But Ramirez is already applying this critical knowledge. Her four-month training as an EMT wraps up in January, which happens to be National Blood Donor Month. Between rides with the Fredericksburg Rescue Squad, she heads UMW’s Red Cross club, an organization she’s been involved with since her early days at Mary Washington.
Ramirez felt right at home at UMW as a freshman. But she was all nerves when she began Phage Hunters, a biology honors course in which students have the opportunity to work with phages, or viruses that infect and replicate within bacteria.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but it made me fall in love with science all over again,” said Ramirez, who loaded up on pre-health courses like anatomy, physiology, virology and chemistry, as well as psychology and biology for her neuroscience minor.
“Cindy has shown a great interest in clinical biology and an impressive drive to succeed in allied health,” said Assistant Professor of Biology Parrish Waters, who guided Ramirez in her senior research project. The subject of her work is the effect of COVID-19 symptoms on different demographic groups, and she recently presented her findings at the fall UMW Honors Symposium. “It’s a highly relevant topic,” Waters said, “and Cindy provides a valuable perspective, especially given that she’ll soon enter the workforce.”
Becoming an EMT isn’t her final goal, Ramirez said, but it’s a great pathway to a career in internal medicine, which she hopes to pursue through Bluefield College and then the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, after taking a gap year. She joined the local rescue squad last December; after the pandemic hit, she spent several months commuting from Alexandria to Fredericksburg to complete her training. The long drive was worth it, she said, as are the skills she’s gaining on the job.
“I got to see the inside of an ambulance, experience the lights and sirens, and watch how the team works together to help someone,” she said. “Now when I go on calls, adrenaline takes over because you don’t know what you’ll see until you get on the scene.”
Ramirez, now president of UMW’s Red Cross club, also organizes regular blood drives, which are currently being held at the Hyatt Place in Eagle Village. It’s important to give blood right now, she said, as Red Cross tests blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies, which can help coronavirus patients who need transfusions.
In her free time, Ramirez recruits fellow students through Stafford Junction, a part of UMW’s COAR program, to become tutors for local schoolchildren. But with her hectic schedule, there’s one thing she hasn’t been able to do.
“I’m so busy encouraging other people to give blood that I’ve actually never had a chance to donate myself,” she said. “It’s something I plan to get to in the future.”
The University of Mary Washington offers several pre-health career tracks and has formal affiliation programs and partnerships with area health career programs, including Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine. Visit UMW’s Pre-Health Programs web page to learn more. For more information on UMW Red Cross blood drives, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.