A Mind for Neuroscience by philanthropy

Person standing in military fatigues holding a gun next to a sign that says Camp CW Myler Baghdad Iraq
UC Davis School of Medicine student Oscar Vazquez ’20 discovered his passion for neuroscience when he was serving in the US Marines.

By: Tess Steinberger

From Puerto Rico to Iraq to UC Berkeley and now at UC Davis, Oscar Vazquez ’20 finds his passion for the brain everywhere he goes. Now, he is leading meaningful work by researching traumatic brain injuries at UC Davis School of Medicine, where he received the 2016 Sandra Reed Scholarship and the 2017 Dean’s Scholarship.

Vazquez grew up in a rural town in Puerto Rico and was met with challenges early on, such as limited access to medical and education services. His parents’ hard work to provide for their children allowed Vazquez to follow his educational dreams.

“Despite these difficulties my parents always sacrificed whatever it took to make sure that my sisters and I developed an appreciation for the arts and the sciences,” Vazquez explained. “It was in the setting of poverty and adversity that I found my own path into medicine.”

Vet or Neurosurgeon?

Vazquez developed his passion for the sciences and medicine after observing his father’s work at the Puerto Rico Zoo. He landed a volunteer position at the Zoo and was soon convinced that he wanted to be a vet.

He joked, “Like many of my fellow Aggies, I also wanted to grow up to be a veterinarian. However, when I realized how hard it was to get into vet school, especially UC Davis’ vet school, I figured I should go for something easier and just become a neurosurgeon.”

Passion for science

Vazquez’s passion for neuroscience evolved much earlier than medical school. After high school, he entered the US Marines, where he proudly served his country while also learning about the biology of disease and traumatic brain injuries.  

While serving in a special operations unit in Iraq, Vazquez realized that more research was needed in the field of traumatic brain injuries to help best meet patient’s needs.

When Vazquez returned home, he attended UC Berkeley and received his Ph.D. in neuroscience. Even though he loved research, he missed interacting with patients and soon found himself at home at the UC Davis School of Medicine, where he was able to assist patients impacted by traumatic brain injuries.

Now a third year medical school student, Vazquez is thinking ahead to the future.

He shares, “I hope to be the leader that helps UC Davis become the premier center of brain research and neurosurgical care.”