Fourth Year Medical Student
Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine
Heritage: Chilean & Peruvian
By: Frank Morris Lopez
Awards & Recognitions:
Summer Science Scholars Fellowship
Graduate Student Employee of the Year, Boston University
Susan G. Coleman Catwalk Survivor Model, 2019
Maria Narvaez knows not to sweat the small stuff. That’s because she’s had to deal with the big stuff.
It was the summer of 2018, and Narvaez was in the process of applying to medical school for the second time. Three years earlier, she had applied but did not get in. During those three years, Narvaez did everything possible to make sure she’d be met with success. She pursued a master’s in medical science from Boston University, and studied hard for her Medical College Admissions Test. Just a week and a half after getting her MCAT score results, she received some terrible news.
At age 26, and with no family history of the disease, Narvaez was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I went from the highest of highs to: ‘Oh my gosh, what am I even going to do?’ How far has this spread? Just very real questions about my mortality,” she said.
Narvaez had first discovered the growth about nine months prior. She brought it up to doctors, but was told she was young and healthy and had nothing to worry about. When she followed for further testing, a biopsy showed it was indeed cancer, which thankfully, was in a very early stage. No radiation or chemotherapy was required, but Narvaez did undergo five surgeries and is still on treatment: a regimen of daily medication and monthly injections.
But none of that has stopped her. Narvaez is now a fourth-year medical student at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. She hopes to become a surgeon, specializing in colorectal surgery, thoracic surgery or surgical oncology — not because of her own experience, but because, “once I started surgeries, I just absolutely fell in love with it,” she said. “I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Born in Chile to a Chilean father and Peruvian mother, Narvaez moved to Florida when she was 4. Her interest in science goes as far back as the science fair projects in middle school. She studied biology as an undergrad at Kenyon College in Ohio, and afterward, volunteered at a hospice, as well as on the pediatric floor of a national cancer hospital.
She also shadowed a doctor in Peru for four months, helping kids with medical conditions.
She’s was the co-leader of the Oncology Interest Group at BUSM, and has led high-impact volunteer services, including a COVID-19 food delivery program that made household deliveries during the pandemic in 2020.
If there’s one piece of medical advice Narvaez has to give, it’s “be an advocate for yourself,” she said. “Yes, there are statistics and things that are more likely to happen, but there are outliers. I think that will ultimately impact the way I am as a physician, because I’ve been the outlier.”