FIU Medical Student Receives Prestigious Research Scholarship

Medical student Alejandro Perez in his short white coat outside a building.
Third-year medical student Alejandro Perez is taking a gap year to conduct research.

Alejandro Perez, a student at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, has his sights set on becoming an eye doctor—an ophthalmologist—and he's earned a unique opportunity to help him achieve that goal.

Perez is the first FIU medical student, and only one of five students nationwide, to receive the prestigious 2024 Dr. Larry J. Singerman and Dr. Stephen G. Schwartz Research Scholarship to conduct research at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, a global leader in eye care. Perez began his research journey at the nation's No. 1 eye hospital in June.

Alejandro Perez in front of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute sign

Taking a year off for research will delay his medical school graduation, but Perez firmly believes it's a worthwhile investment. Doing research with world-renowned experts can be crucial to a budding physician's professional development. This experience will help Perez hone his skills, expand his medical knowledge, and provide opportunities to publish his research findings and build a professional network. These factors will significantly enhance his prospects of pursuing his dream.

Ophthalmology is one of the most competitive specialties for post-graduate medical training programs, known as residencies. Research experience gives medical students an edge over other applicants. This scholarship allows Perez, a first-generation college student, to dedicate a year to research without the financial burden.

A Seed of Inspiration

Perez's journey toward medicine began with a personal and profound experience. "It started with the exceptional care my grandfather received during his open-heart surgery," he says. Witnessing the medical team's expertise and compassion planted a seed. "It sparked my passion for science, health, and the noble art of healing."

Finding his calling

Upon entering medical school, Perez was initially drawn to surgery. However, while volunteering at community health fairs, he realized the lack of vision screenings, particularly in underserved communities. That led him to organize a vision screening event. There, he met a Haitian grandmother struggling with cataracts, which significantly impacted her daily life. "Experiencing the transformative power of vision care firsthand," Perez knew he had found his calling. "Ophthalmology allows me to combine my passion for service with the chance to profoundly improve quality of life."

A unique opportunity

Perez is conducting research under the mentorship of Dr. Ta Chen Peter Chang, a pediatric glaucoma and cataract specialist at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. His research project aims to discover and correlate specific markers in the eye to predict early failure in glaucoma surgery..

Once his research year is over, Perez plans to return to FIU to finish his fourth year of medical school and graduate with the Class of 2026.