UCSF medical school graduates first undocumented student in its history

Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn hugs a high school friend while wearing his mortarboard during his graduation party at Marina Park in San Leandro to celebrate his achievement at UCSF’s School of Medicine.Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

At 29, Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn boasts an enviable resume. He’s a UC Berkeley and Harvard University alumnus. A Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree. Founder of an immigration advocacy organization. And, most recently, Latthivongskorn became the first undocumented student to graduate from the UCSF School of Medicine in its 155-year history.

Latthivongskorn completed the program in Medical Education for the Urban Underserved, a five-year track for students focused on serving marginalized communities. He’ll start his residency training in family and community medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital in June, through a UCSF program.

At one point, none of this seemed possible for Latthivongskorn, whose parents brought him to the U.S. illegally from Thailand at age 9 with two older siblings. He goes by “New,” a nickname given to him at birth, as is tradition in Thai culture.

The family settled quietly in Northern California, careful not to attract any attention for fear it would bring immigration authorities to their door.

“I really channeled a lot of these pressures and uncertainty into school, hoping that that would change things,” said Latthivongskorn, a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers temporary deportation relief to young people brought to the country illegally as children. “I think the reality of being undocumented is, that’s not enough. That’s not going to be what changes things and opens doors.”

Latthivongskorn’s parents originally immigrated to Fremont. But after a school official asked his mother for documentation when she went to enroll New in elementary school, the family — frightened of being outed — moved to Milpitas.

Unable to speak English or comprehend American cultural norms, Latthivongskorn struggled in school for the first few years. But with time he thrived, challenging himself in middle school to read, write and learn as much as he could.

New (far left) sits with his cousins during a family vacation. Latthivongskorn got his nickname at birth, a tradition in Thai culture.Photo: Courtesy New Latthivongskorn

His parents worked restaurant jobs to make ends meet, and, in 2004, they moved to Sacramento, where Latthivongskorn attended Inderkum High School. Exposure to health and science in college led Latthivongskorn to pursue medicine, though he didn’t foresee the challenges ahead.

Undocumented students often struggle to overcome the personal and professional hurdles they encounter on the path to higher education. Those obstacles are magnified in the medical world, where undocumented students are in the vast minority and are often denied opportunities because of their immigration status, according to advocates and educators.

DACA has opened new doors for many of these students, though there are limits. More than 75 medical schools across the U.S. consider DACA recipients for admission, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which noted an uptick in these types of applications.

The Trump administration rescinded the program in 2017, but a series of court appeals have kept it in place, allowing current DACA recipients to renew their status. The program isn’t open to new applicants.

Supreme Court justices didn’t take up the issue this year, making it likely that the program will stand until at least 2020.

His parents worked restaurant jobs to make ends meet, and, in 2004, they moved to Sacramento, where Latthivongskorn attended Inderkum High School. Exposure to health and science in college led Latthivongskorn to pursue medicine, though he didn’t foresee the challenges ahead.

Undocumented students often struggle to overcome the personal and professional hurdles they encounter on the path to higher education. Those obstacles are magnified in the medical world, where undocumented students are in the vast minority and are often denied opportunities because of their immigration status, according to advocates and educators.SUBSCRIBER BENEFITDid you know you have 10% off at San Francisco Wine School?

DACA has opened new doors for many of these students, though there are limits. More than 75 medical schools across the U.S. consider DACA recipients for admission, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which noted an uptick in these types of applications.

The Trump administration rescinded the program in 2017, but a series of court appeals have kept it in place, allowing current DACA recipients to renew their status. The program isn’t open to new applicants.

Supreme Court justices didn’t take up the issue this year, making it likely that the program will stand until at least 2020.

Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn stands with his parents, Yuwadee Latthivongskorn (left) and Kumpol Latthivongskorn, during New’s graduation party. He’s holding the Gold-Headed Cane awarded to students who show the qualities of a “true physician.”Photo: Photos by Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

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Tatiana Sanchez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: tatiana.sanchez@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @TatianaYSanchez

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