20 in Their 20s: Carlisdania Mendoza

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A psychiatric resident aims to help underserved populations

When Carlisdania Mendoza began medical school at Duke University, she brought many of Fordham’s Jesuit values with her.

Her undergraduate experience in STEP and CSTEP at Fordham—two New York state programs designed to support minority students and prepare them for careers in science, health, and technology—taught her that “you don’t do things reflexively,” she says. “You’re rigorous and methodical and reflect on what you’re bringing to the table. Being partners with the community is more enriching for everyone involved.”

She received a half-tuition scholarship to Duke’s new primary care track, where she began working with a support group for transgender Latina women, including some who were undocumented. But she wanted to do more. “I knew I could go deeper,” she says, “and help these women live longer and trust the medical system. What’s more humanizing than acknowledging that someone has a need and then helping them get that?”

Mendoza was frustrated when she couldn’t get the support she needed to create a medical clinic for the women, but the experience made her rethink her trajectory. Midway through medical school, she gave back her scholarship and switched to Duke’s psychiatry track, a bold move that did not surprise Renaldo Alba, FCRH ’02, GSE ’10, associate director of Fordham’s STEP and CSTEP programs.

“Carli is strong-willed and stubborn in her principles. She doesn’t do things because they are financially convenient,” Alba says. “Other folks are looking to win, win, win. Carli is looking to do good, good, good.”

Mendoza, who was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the Bronx with her family when she was 10, had not considered the mental health field until she entered medical school. But during her psychiatry clinic, she realized how rewarding she found working with mentally ill patients. “It felt very easy and natural for me,” she says.

Now, having graduated from Duke in 2016 and completed the first year of her psychiatric residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Mendoza knows she’s found her path. “I just feel so energized working with people and achieving goals with them,” she says.

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