Born and raised in Ecuador, Cyntia Andrade Santamaria was selected as one of three in her country for a grant designated to low-income students who had demonstrated leadership skills to attend college in the United States. The first in her family to receive a college degree, she was not sure what she wanted to study, but she had always enjoyed math, chemistry, and biology. One of her high school teachers suggested she go into engineering, and she thought she would give it a try.
Andrade Santamaria ended up deciding to pursue chemistry. But while she loved her classes, she also needed to work to support herself. Balancing her coursework and her job was challenging. She did not have as much time as her classmates to pursue valuable research experience, and this put her at a disadvantage when looking for employment. Lacking other options, when she received an email stating that a small practice was looking for ophthalmology technicians, she sent in an application. The job would end up changing the trajectory of the career.
As she interacted with patients as a technician, her passion for medicine was born. Over six years, she tried various positions—the front desk, billing, management—but she still found herself wanting to grow her knowledge. When she learned about the physician assistant profession, she realized it could be a great pathway into health care. She spent a year and a half completing her requirements to become a candidate for PA programs. But when she found the Yale Physician Assistant Online Program, she immediately fell in love with it, and it was the only program she ended up applying to. She got in.
Andrade Santamaria is still passionate about ophthalmology and hopes to stay in the practice. But there are not many ophthalmology PAs out there. “I really want the ophthalmology field to see what PAs can do,” she says. She also hopes to be an advocate for the Hispanic community. As a technician, she watched patients who spoke little English struggle to get their needs properly met. For instance, the prior authorization process stood as a barrier to Hispanic patients trying to get their medications. “I want them to be heard. I would like to sit down with them after hours and explain these processes to them and strive for their needs to be met,” she says. ‘
Through the Yale PA Online Program, Andrade Santamaria gets to pursue what she loves at her home in New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, sister, and three French bulldogs—Otto, Manuela, and Chouchou.