At three years old, Jessica Fernandez was diagnosed with Spondyloepiphyseal Dysplasia, a rare genetic disorder that affects bone growth and results in short stature. At 28, Ms. Fernandez stands at 4 feet 2 inches tall. Ms. Fernandez said, “I once met someone who told me that the only true disability is having a bad attitude” and that made her think that, “if you have a good attitude about everything, you can conquer whatever you set your mind to” and she had set her sights on becoming a medical doctor.
Medical school is known for being both intellectually and physically rigorous and while other students can navigate the hospital without ever giving it much though, Ms. Fernandez experiences hip and back pain that can make walking difficult. Working with her Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Counselor and Rehab Engineers, Ms. Fernandez was able to identify accommodations to help her overcome this barrier. VR was able to provide her with an electric wheelchair, vehicle modifications to transport her mobility device and pedal extenders to make driving her vehicle much easier. She now utilizes an electric wheelchair to help navigate hospitals and clinics. Before entering a facility, Ms. Fernandez researches the layout and routes that she will need to utilize.
While some schools were not willing to give her a chance, the University of Central Florida gave her a chance and she excelled. She was awarded with the College of Medicine Humanitarian Award for her compassion and was voted the person other medical students would want to have care for a loved one. She has said that her life experiences brings a unique perspective to caring for her patients. This past May, Ms. Fernandez walked across the stage and accepted her diploma as she graduated from UCF College of Medicine, but the excitement and accomplishments do not end there. On Match Day, Ms. Fernandez opened her envelope and learned that she was accepted into her top choice residency program at Jefferson Medical College’s duPoint Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. It is one of only three pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation positions in the country. They work with children with movement disorders, such as Jessica’s condition. This is also the hospital where she had surgery last year to fuse bones in her spine and while there she developed a special relationship with the facility and staff. This is only the beginning of Jessica’s journey and she will continue to work towards achieving her dreams and will not let her disability get in the way of achieving them.