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Dr. Darnna Evett Banks

Darnna Banks

Former Rising Star Scholar, Cedar Valley and Mountain View Colleges, Medical Doctor

For Dr. Darnna Banks, a Rising Star scholarship opened the door to the college degree she always knew she wanted. Today, she is a newly minted doctor awaiting word on residency acceptance, well on the way to her long-time dream of becoming a pediatrician. She received her Doctor of Medicine degree this summer from Cuba’s Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM) after completing its rigorous six-year program on full scholarship.

The Open Door of Opportunity

A decade or so ago, though, she was just an ambitious student at Mountain View and Cedar Valley colleges without a way to fund college. “Rising Star meant that I could get a college education without worrying about how to pay for it,” says Darnna, who grew up in a single-parent home. “As long as you have the desire to do something, there’s always a way to get there and a door that will open.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaii, majoring in biology and theater with a minor in Spanish. Then she started planning how to get to med school – having decided at age six to become a pediatrician like the ones she so admired from her frequent hospital stays from asthma. She just couldn’t afford the MCAT exam fee. 

Darnna Banks and Shirley HiggsThat’s when she found out about ELAM, providing scholarships by the Cuban government for foreigners who are minorities, underprivileged or who can’t secure educational financing in their own country. “I qualified under all categories,” she says. One of the largest medical schools in the world, it offers scholarships on the condition that graduates return to their home country to practice medicine in underserved communities. Its approximate 19,000 international students include only a prestigious handful of Americans, 21 in Darnna’s class of 130.

This fall was a whirlwind: returning to Dallas – and admittedly suffering a little culture shock after six years living in Cuba – substitute-teaching for the DISD and applying to residency programs across the country. “One of the things that continues to surprise me is how every experience I’ve had has prepared me for the next step,” she says. “I took Spanish at Mountain View, then ended up in Cuba. Substitute teaching gave me more skills to prepare for teaching in my future. And a (three-month) fellowship at Highland Hospital in Oakland this winter has given me more clinical experience and research opportunities.”

Gaining Global Perspective

What’s in the future for this bilingual doctor with a bicultural world view? “My schooling gave me a global perspective and the desire to serve internationally,” says Darnna, who still can’t quite get used to being called “Dr. Banks.” “I’d love to do a fellowship in infectious disease after residency, then maybe serve in an international organization like Doctors Without Borders.

“Rising Star and my ELAM scholarship gave me the gift of education without debt to repay, so now I can pursue my career dreams without that worry. The possibilities of what I can do and how I can do it are endless.”



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