Sam Regalado

Sam Regalado, med student in white coat in front of the UW Medicine sign.

“I stumbled onto the idea that I could weave scientific research and caring for patients together.”

“In the human genome, we learn about our history, who our relatives are, our relationship to our environment and the animal kingdom. It’s a rich collection of encyclopedic information, and yet we can’t see it with the naked eye,” says Sam Regalado.

A fifth-year student of genome sciences in the Medical Scientist Training Program, Regalado is working his way through an eight-year program that combines both an MD and a PhD at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The rigorous program will enable him to fulfill his dream to be part of a new generation of caregivers who bridge scientific discovery and direct work with patients.

Part of the reason Regalado finds the human genome so inspiring comes from his own story. “I had a high school AP biology teacher who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” he says.

When Mrs. Virk taught the class about human genetics, it sparked Regalado’s interest. “At the time, I felt small and insignificant,” says Regalado. “But I remember thinking about how the smallest pieces of our biological makeup are so powerful and transformative.” He began to build on this spark, joining the school’s Science Olympiad and participating in other STEM programs.

Regalado’s mother was another early source of inspiration. His father died when he was just seven years old, and his mother set the example as a single parent in healthcare, working in a clinic by day and offering home caregiving to patients in the evenings. “My mother shaped me in terms of empathy and seeing medicine as a way to step into someone else’s shoes,” he says.

By his junior year in high school, Regalado had formulated a vision for his future. “I stumbled onto the idea that I could weave scientific research and caring for patients together. But when I told a teacher, he wrote it off as far-fetched.”

Despite the naysayers — and the fact that nobody in his private high school looked like him — Regalado persevered, inspired by his mother and Mrs. Virk.

Improving healthcare equity

Much of Regalado’s passion came from recognizing the injustice and inequities he saw in his community in California. “Medicine for me is very personal,” he says. “With my background as a Native American and Latino, and seeing poor healthcare access where I lived, it ignited a fire within me to want to reverse that trend.” That includes his early understanding that some of the most overlooked contributors to health and well-being can have the most transformative impacts.

“In my community, healthcare disparities look like metabolic diseases including diabetes, hypertension and increased rates of heart disease compared to other populations,” he says. “These are influenced by who has access to food and shelter or primary care, and the ratio of convenience stores and gas stations to markets that sell fresh foods.”

The UW School of Medicine’s WWAMI program seeks to address these types of inequities and gaps in care by training the next generation of caregivers like Regalado, whose life’s work focuses on the building blocks of life and removing the roadblocks that keep people from reaching their full potential.

Scholarships also play an important role in improving healthcare equity, providing critical support for the WWAMI program and helping students from underrepresented backgrounds realize their goals. For Regalado, scholarships laid the foundation of his education; donor-funded merit scholarships enabled him to go to a college preparatory private high school, which helped to set him on his current trajectory. Now, scholarships are allowing him to continue his journey.

I give my thanks to the donors who took a chance on me,” he says.

"With my background as a Native American and Latino, and seeing poor healthcare access where I lived, it ignited a fire within me to want to reverse that trend."

“We’re all truly connected”

"The smallness that I experienced back in high school made me realize how interdependent we all are."

While he still has years of study in front of him and will continue his PhD studies years after his MD classmates finish, Regalado looks forward to the reward. “It’s gratifying to work on challenging problems,” he says. “And perhaps nobody else is working on them, so you are charting new territory, and the impact can be immense.”

Beyond that, he imagines the impact by the bedside. “Being with a patient and having the latest data to guide their treatment, to say, ‘I am here before you with not just the years of training but also the skills to make your life better, to provide the best care possible.’”

Today, when Regalado reflects on his journey, he sees a story of human potential — and the potency of a collective vision of who we are and all that we can be. “The smallness that I experienced back in high school made me realize how interdependent we all are,” says Regalado.

“None of us is insignificant. And there’s power in learning about each other. There’s power in recognizing the trials each of us goes through and understanding how we’re all truly connected.”

For students from underserved communities, like Sam, your support is a deeply meaningful vote of confidence in their abilities and their role in medicine. Make a gift today to support scholarships at UW Medicine.

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