Cal State East Bay Blog

“A Second Chance To Follow My Dreams”: First Generation College Graduate, Now Doctor, Reflects on CSUEB’s Positive Impact


Growing up in Contra Costa County during the 90s, Kyaw Lin lived happily with his family, even though he had limited resources. He was born in Burma and moved to the United States when he was six years old, not knowing how to speak English. As he matured, Lin learned firsthand about the financial struggles many Bay Area families go through. When he reached high school, he made an effort to reach out to middle and elementary school students who had gone through similar endeavors as he, and many were from at-risk environments. The more he connected with these younger students, the more he developed a fondness for education and mentoring. He had no idea those early days of advising and tutoring would eventually become his life-long passion.

Today, Lin is an interventional pain physician at Sutter Health Medical Foundation, and an assistant professor at Touro University in Vallejo. He’s combined his love of medicine and passion for teaching into his career, and credits Cal State East Bay’s Pre-Professional Health Academic Certificate Program (PHAP) for opening the doors to his success.

“PHAP helped me become a leader,” said Lin. “There was always positive feedback and resources given to me when I was in PHAP, and it always pushed the potential for me to try to go towards my goals even though I knew it would be a difficult road.”

PHAP was established in 2010 and Lin graduated from its first cohort in 2011. The program is designed for students who are interested in entering or changing into a healthcare or biomedical career, but don't have a science degree or the desired grade point average for applying to health professional schools. It provides students with the advantage to enter into health professional schools and, ultimately, a career in the health care industry.

Before joining PHAP in his early 20s, Lin worked in biotechnology. He regularly found himself working inside a room staring at a Petri dish or a flask, sitting by himself with nobody to talk to. This motivated him to switch his career to medicine, where he could work one-on-one with patients and develop a personal connection with them.

“When I worked in biotech it was a great industry, but I really missed the human part of things,” said Lin. “I wanted the ability to interact with people and be able to work in a team, and I always had an interest in medicine. No one in my family went to college so I thought medicine was a goal that was too far out for me, but PHAP made everything possible.”

During his time with PHAP, Lin formed bonding relationships with his classmates and said the small class size played a major role in helping him thrive.

“The small environment really got us to know each other, and we were like a family because we were always just trying to help each other out and working on research projects together,” said Lin. “Instead of competing, we were always trying to lift each other up.”

Along with his PHAP classmates, Lin developed friendships with the instructors. He said the professors were so friendly and willing to advise that he remained in contact with them after many years.

“Because the program is small we got to know our professors and know their lives, and they became our friends,” said Lin. “[The professors] made themselves available at all times, and they were there for every step of the way. Not only to teach us and coach us, but also helping to get us into med school.”

After PHAP, Lin went on to Andrew Taylor Still University in Mesa, Arizona. He then completed an internship at University of California, San Francisco, a residency in New York University, and focused on physical medicine and rehabilitation at University of California, Irvine. He eventually completed his fellowship in anesthesia for interventional pain and worked at Kaiser Permanente. Today, Lin stays busy at Sutter Health working as a pain doctor, taking on epidural procedures and nerve blocks to aid patients suffering from considerable pain. He also does diagnostic testing for carpal tunnel syndrome and specializes in nerve damage. He enjoys getting to know his patients and their families, he said.

In addition to his hospital post, Lin teaches remotely and in person 120 students per semester at Touro University. He instructs his first and second-year medical students about the muscle-skeletal system, body organs and back pain. He also makes an effort to provide assistance in admissions and continues to mentor. Because of his personal experience growing up without finances or educational guidance, Lin said his mission as a teacher is to “give back”, especially to first generation college students like himself.

“When I had to take my Medical College Admission Test I didn’t even have money to buy books, I had to rent books that were five years old, so I know what it’s like to not have what you need,” said Lin. “When I was an undergrad in medical school I always thought there could be more interactive and proactive teaching where there's more focus on the students’ future. So I went into teaching because I wanted to make that change myself and change the culture within medicine.”

When he’s not healing patients or teaching the next generation of medical professionals, 37-year-old Lin spends his time with his maltipoo and wife, with whom he’s expecting his first child. He stays in regular contact with PHAP instructors and hasn’t forgotten how much the program changed his life for the better, he said.

“PHAP gave me a second chance to follow my dreams,” said Lin. “I didn’t think I had enough to go into medicine in undergrad because of my grades, scores, and lack of experience, but PHAP helped me organize my life, made me competitive for medical programs and also gave me life skills. I want everyone to know that even if no one else is doing this around you, you can do it.”

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Pre-Professional Health Academic Program

Designed with the flexibility that working adults require, Cal State East Bay’s Pre-Professional Health Academic Program equips you with the knowledge to make your application stand out and paves the way to an exciting and rewarding career in the healthcare field. Learn more here.