Photo of Cristian Ambrosio

UW-Green Bay alumnus Cristian Ambrosio’s definition of healing and love took a whole new meaning the day his family made a decision to care for his newborn cousin. Calling it his most life-changing experience, Ambrosio came to the realization of how precious life is, and the power of love. This light-bulb moment led the UW-Green Bay alumnus on his path today as a medical college student, with a burning desire to give back to his community and his family.

A dream is just a dream until you put in the work to chase it down. Ambrosio, the son of immigrants from Mexico, has had to dig a little deeper, and work a bit harder, than most. But his progress is steadily leading to his childhood dream—becoming a physician. The first-year student at UW-Madison’s School of Public Health reflected on the University and its people, which have helped him prepare for the next step:

“I believe the biggest barrier I had when I was young, was that I had no one to really guide me through my education. My parents didn’t speak English and didn’t know how the American education system works. So, I had to figure things out on my own.” In high school that meant what AP courses to take, what qualifications were needed for certain college. While the process is straightforward for some, for Ambrosio it was a walk through the unknown.

Ambrosio’s college journey took him just a few miles from home. At UW-Green Bay, he received the understanding he hoped and the map he longed for. He says he felt both seen and heard. With smaller class sizes, the professors knew who he was, and he was able to seek their guidance, while receiving mentoring he needed to achieve his higher education goals. UW-Green Bay Human Biology Prof. Brian Merkel is one of Ambrosio’s biggest advocates.

“Cristian’s resilience to respond to academic challenges as a student at UW-Green Bay, his work ethic, along with his compassion for the well-being of others are the hallmarks of his character,” Merkel says. “He is a great ambassador for this institution and a shining example of the value of this institution to this region.”

Ambrosio said UW-Green Bay’s value of inclusivity and diversity impacted and empowered him to find his voice both at the University, and now, in his new role as medical student at UW-Madison.

“Looking back, studying for the MCAT in the beginning of the pandemic was hard. It was more emotionally taxing and so much was unknown about COVID.” Ambrosio’s usual destressing activities (the gym, his friends and vacation) were off the table.

However, his diligence earned him a spot in UW-Madison’s prestigious School of Medicine and Public health.

He chose to stay in Wisconsin after his experience working in the communities of Two Rivers, Appleton, Sturgeon Bay and Marinette. “I greatly see the need for physicians. Specifically, in my case, I saw the great need for Spanish-speaking physicians.” In fact, Ambrosio counts his time working as a Spanish interpreter as his greatest accomplishment. By being an interpreter, he is able to touch patients’ lives and hear their stories.

In August he participated in School’s traditional “white coat ceremony,” signifying his decision to enter the medical profession. He said it gave him a feeling of purpose.

“Everything about the ceremony just seemed like this was supposed to happen and the path I took was the right one. I’m not sure why, but I always knew I could pursue the dream that I had and that it would workout. It was just a matter of when. I felt that way because I had the support system of my family, friends, and professors throughout my undergrad. Another Important piece I believe was the education self-advocacy that I acquired going through the American education system.”

“The White Coat Ceremony to me, means the beginning of a transition that will change someone’s way of thinking, responsibility, and stewardship to others. It is the beginning to the start of a wonderful process that will challenge me and change me into the physician that I can be. It has already changed the lens through how I see patients already. Knowing how privileged I am to be learning about medicine and how not everyone gets the same chance. I am starting to understand how critical it is for a physician to have effective communication skills and knowing their patients on a deeper level.”

It is this desire to give back to the community that also fuels Ambrosio’s post-medical school goals. He dreams of opening a clinic that will be open during non-business hours for those who are unable to see a care team due to work or school or other commitments. “I tend to see a lot of patients go to the ER just because they cannot see a physician after they are done with work. I hope to do my part to help those who feel they are not being included in healthcare.”

He carries humility, authenticity, character and strength wherever he goes. “I want to be part of the healing process and allow for patients to enjoy time with their loved ones,” he says. “Consults are usually 20 minutes or so, and how can a physician tell everything to a patient about their condition or illness? The answer is they can’t do it alone. Physicians also need help, too. Help from patient service representatives, social workers, nurses, medical assistants and many more. I hope Green Bay and the nation can move to a more collaborative & comprehensive healthcare for all.”

Healthcare and this kind of healing, as Ambrosio states, is at a tipping point. There is room for tremendous growth and learning if those involved are willing to do their part. The need for resources, structure and accessibility at times sounds like an arduous and long journey. It will require leaders who are authentic, honest, and willing to make a difference.

Seems daunting? With patients in the hands of people like Cristian Ambrosio, it’s safe to say the future of the healthcare system and his community is in bright and loving hands.

Story by Marketing and University Communication student assistant Soundarya Ritzman; Photo from New Medical Students Welcomed to UW in Virtual White Coat Ceremony.