Living and working in College Station, Texas, as a family physician practicing obstetrics for the past 11 years, Elizabeth Suarez-Cedeño '94 is realizing a dream she didn’t think possible when she was growing up in New Jersey.
"I always had in mind that I wanted to become a physician since I was a child, but I didn’t think it was possible, mostly for financial reasons."
It wasn’t until the Newark, New Jersey native got to Stevens Institute of Technology that the dream started to become a possibility.
“I ended up speaking to people who were in medical school, as well as my advisors at Stevens who told me, ‘You know, there is financial aid, you don’t have to be rich to go to medical school,’” she says. “That’s when it hit me that it was possible!”
After that realization, Suarez-Cedeño enrolled in additional biomedical science and biology courses while pursuing a mechanical engineering degree, in order to satisfy the prerequisites needed to get into medical school.
After graduating from Stevens, Suarez-Cedeño attended the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and followed with a residency at JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey.
After completing her residency, she moved to California to pursue an obstetrical fellowship at the University of Southern California. Although Suarez-Cedeño intended to return to New Jersey, a recruiter helped her land an interview for a position in Texas.
“When my husband and I came out to Texas, we never expected to like it, but we ended up loving it. And we’ve been here ever since.”
For this mother of an 8-year-old daughter, the idea of forming relationships with patients was very appealing. It was the reason she decided to focus on family medicine, she says.
“I just fell in love with the whole family unit,” she says. “In my practice, I take care of the pregnancy, deliver the baby, and follow that baby throughout its life. So I see the parents, grandparents, and so forth. So it really is kind of the entire family unit.”
The importance of familial relationships has always played a key role in Suarez-Cedeño’s life. Her desire to become a physician stemmed in part from growing up with a parent with severe healthcare issues.
"My dad suffered from a stroke, a loss of memory, multiple falls, and he would get lost," she says.
Raised in a Spanish-speaking household, Suarez-Cedeño was called upon to accompany her father on his many medical emergency and doctors' visits.
"My mother only spoke Spanish, so I had to serve as a translator for a lot of the visits, which is really difficult when you’re a kid and you have no level of understanding."
Her challenges early in life made her appreciate the diversity she found within the Stevens community, an environment that helped her thrive both academically and personally. Suarez-Cedeño, who was a student in the Stevens Technical Enrichment Program (STEP), credits her success at Stevens largely to the friendships she established through STEP.
“It was really great to be able to connect with people who also had disadvantages. But what I loved about STEP was that it was so multicultural. There were people from all different backgrounds and cultures,” she recalls. “We’d cook on the weekends. With students from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Vietnam and India — I mean what a potluck of different kinds of foods!”
Lest there be any doubt, Suarez-Cedeño says she and her friends were focused when it came to academics.
“We had a good time and we had fun. But we studied and got our work done. And we really formed a camaraderie and appreciation of our different backgrounds and different struggles in life. For me, it was priceless having that.”