ALEX LUCAS: APPLYING ENGINEERING AND SPANISH FOR INNOVATION IN MEDICINE

Alex Lucas’s life has led many times to a special place: Peru. Alex was born in Peru, and at just three months old, Alex was adopted and moved to his mother’s hometown, a small town in southern Illinois.

Growing up in a small town gave Alex a sense of community and compassion. “In the small community where I grew up, if one person has an unfortunate event, the whole community shows a lot of compassion and support,” Alex recalled. His small town context also provided him with a different exposure to medicine than many of his classmates—he grew up seeing just one doctor, and this doctor saw multiple generations of his family at a time and even diagnosed his grandfather’s cancer when Alex was twelve years old. Their doctor helped walk the family through the bad news and the different treatment options with specialist.

In part from the tight-knit nature of small-town life, Alex’s family, coaches, and teachers also played a strong role in his life as he grew up. Alex credits his upbringing for much of his academic success—his parents consistently promoted his education by reading with him and quizzing him for fun.

As he got older, Alex became more serious about both his education and recreation. His baseball coach was his teacher for chemistry, and, thanks to their connection, he propelled Alex’s interest in the subject forward, influencing his college and career trajectory. “I really started to see some of the sciences and math stand out a little more than the other subjects,” Alex said. “That set me up to go in the engineering and science direction.”

Applying work ethic and engineering to advance medicine

Alex’s work ethic strengthened through his recreational activities in high school, investing time and effort toward golf and baseball. Regarding golf, Alex said, “I would be in our long backyard hitting golf balls every night just back and forth or spending long nights on the course to improve.” Over a few years, Alex went from barely being able to score to a top player on the team. This work ethic translated to other parts of his life, especially once he entered college.

Alex started visiting the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with his math team and knew early on that being admitted to Illinois was a goal he wanted to pursue. “Coming from a couple of hours down south, Champaign was a big, exciting town,” said Alex. “Getting to go to the University of Illinois was a goal and just as big of a deal to me as getting into any of the Ivy League schools.” He was so fascinated by the campus that he knew he would come to Illinois if he was able to get in—and he did.

Alex posing with Dean King Li in front of the Alma Mater during his first week as a Carle Illinois student.

Alex worked hard to receive his degree in chemical engineering, and soon after pursued a career in industry. After first working for a company in Texas, Alex transitioned to a new role with a company based out of Chicago. Applying his strong work ethic, Alex advanced quickly, allowing him to cultivate a whole new set of life skills. “It was a steep learning curve, but putting more time into learning about business culture helped me rise, so by the time I finished, I had different teams working under me. Learning and constantly absorbing things is something I consider very important,” said Alex.

During his time in Chicago, Alex began to explore his Peruvian background, and while Alex had taken Spanish as a high school student, he decided to grow his understanding further by pursuing Spanish lessons again. As Alex was beginning to consider medicine as a career, he saw how beneficial Spanish language skills could be. “One of my career goals is actually to go work in South America or another country outside of America for a few years,” said Alex.

Carle Illinois student performing examination on patient.
Alex examining a patient at the Carle Illinois Clinic.

As Alex grew his Spanish skills and his interest in pursuing medical school, he began volunteering in local clinics and shadowing doctors in a local emergency room. It was here that Alex knew that the lifestyle change and financial burden of medical school would be worth it. While volunteering, Alex saw the impressive compassion of doctors working at the free pain clinic on their days off, which sold him on what being a doctor is all about. However, Alex particularly enjoyed volunteering in the emergency room at Norwegian American Hospital in a largely Hispanic neighborhood of Chicago, Humboldt Park. “I loved seeing all of the different people come in, especially in Chicago where there is a lot more variety,” said Alex.

As Alex had made the decision to apply to medical school, he heard that the Carle Illinois College of Medicine would be opening, and he was very excited. He had heard murmurings of his alma mater opening their own medical school when he was an undergrad, and it was only fitting that he was ready to apply by the time the college was opening up. “It almost seemed like everything was falling perfectly into place,” said Alex. Once again, he knew that if he got in, Illinois would once again be where he would go.

Alex Lucas in Peru
Alex on a trip to Peru before medical school.

After Alex had been admitted to other medical schools, he organized an extended trip to Central and South America, knowing that he wanted Spanish to be a big part of his career and personal life. After staying in Guatemala with a host family for a month, he moved on to explore South America. Alex was once again in Peru when he found out he had been admitted to Carle Illinois. “I was eating in Cusco and my mom sent me a message on Facebook that said ‘You got a package from Carle Illinois,’” said Alex. “I pretty much knew what that meant at that point. After finding out the news, I was extremely happy. I couldn’t call anyone because I was in Peru, but I did have some internet access so I was able to message with family.” Of all places, it was just right that Alex was in Peru to hear the good news.

Alex’s connections to Peru won’t stop as he moves through medical school and transitions to a career in the field. He hopes to do some work in a Spanish-speaking country like Peru in his future. And, Alex hopes to provide innovations to under-resourced hospitals that allow for a higher level of care. In the meantime, Alex currently serves as the Student Government president, and contributed his engineering background to the development of Carle Illinois’ unique engineering-infused curriculum by previously serving on the curriculum committee.

Carle Illinois student government.
The Carle Illinois student government during the 2019-2020 term, with Alex serving as president.

Alex also continues to cultivate his interest in emergency medicine, a seed that started during his time volunteering in Chicago and continues now at Carle Illinois as he serves as president of the Emergency Club. Applying his engineering experience, he hopes to someday serve in an administrative position to help better manage patient flow with the increasing number of people using the ER as their primary form of care. “To blend working in the emergency room with some of the more practical engineering things I’ve done, I know different work processes can make things more efficient, and I think I can apply that in medicine,” said Alex.

Alex sees emergency medicine as not only a practical, hands-on field with a variety of cases, he also sees it as somewhere he can really make a difference. “Often the patients are having one of the worst days in their life, and to be able to provide health care and comfort would be a very gratifying and satisfactory position,” Alex said.

The generosity of people like you made it possible for Alex and his classmates to attend Carle Illinois with scholarships.