When she was little, Marissa Song Mayeda (SOM ’25) used to accompany her grandfather to his frequent appointments at the VA hospital.
“He was on a first-name basis with his clinical team, and since my grandparents were from Hawaii, he would refer to the health practitioners as ‘Uncle’ or ‘Auntie.’ It wasn’t until I was older that I realized all those doctors and nurses weren’t actually family members,” said Mayeda. “On top of that, my mom was a nurse. I grew up with the core value that you take care of your community and I wanted that connection in my career.”
And yet her path to medical school was not a straight line. She lacked the financial backing and – on her dad’s side of the family – the emotional support.
“My dad’s side of the family has very traditional Japanese values about the role of the woman within the family. When it was time for me to go to college, there was some pushback. I didn’t have a college fund, but I did have a wedding fund,” said Mayeda.
Mayeda did not let that stop her, however. In 2017 she received a bachelor’s degree in Community Health Education and School Health Education from California State University, Long Beach. At that point, Mayeda thought she might want to attend nursing school, and follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“But my mom and my grandmother urged me consider all possible health care careers,” said Mayeda. Without taking much of a pause, she attended Oregon State University, where she received her master’s degree in Public Health – Health Promotion & Health Behavior in 2020 – an ideal set-up for applying to medical school.
Throughout her schooling, Mayeda held a variety of jobs, many of which corresponded to her passion for public health. She worked as a graduate assistant for the Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 surge response program; as a sexual health graduate assistant at OSU Student Health Services; and a food security project lead for the Linn County Public Health district, among other positions.
“Getting selected for a scholarship was exciting, especially since it was funded by a pioneering OHSU alumna. I think that scholarships are the best available tools to help students realize their dreams, regardless of their financial situation.”Marissa Song Mayeda, MD ’25
When she received notice that she was accepted to the OHSU School of Medicine, she couldn’t believe her good luck. Even better, she qualified for a generous scholarship, as well as loans.
“Throughout my journey, I wanted to take care of myself and was pretty hard-headed about it. I didn’t want my mom to have to worry about helping me financially. That’s why I worked so much and focused on saving money,” said Mayeda. “Getting selected for a scholarship was exciting, especially since it was funded by a pioneering OHSU alumna. I think that scholarships are the best available tools to help students realize their dreams, regardless of their financial situation.”
Now as a medical student, she’s part of the women’s leadership development program and also participates in the five-month physician scientist program to gain experience in clinical epidemiology. Mayeda says her goal is to pursue a surgical-based specialty while working to bridge the gap between public health, health policy and medicine.
“That’s how we can better serve our communities and strive toward not just health equity, but beyond it, toward larger social justice issues,” said Mayeda.