As Arturo Montes, a 30-year-old second year medical student at the UNLV School of Medicine, walks in the Las Vegas Arts District, he points to the colorful street art impression of the Deadpool comic book character that fills the brick back wall of a downtown building.
“I call what you find on the walls of the buildings down here the art of the people,” he says. These trips downtown, he says, are one way that he relieves some of the stress associated with medical school, where 40 hour plus study weeks are commonplace.
There are times, Montes says, when he talks about medical school that even he still has a difficult time believing that he’s on his way to becoming a physician. “I’m the first in my family to even graduate from high school. I wasn’t that good of a student back then. I didn’t even think of going to college until I was 18.”
That he’s getting the chance to become a physician, he says, is a testament not only to his hard work but to UNLV professors, a Cleveland Clinic neurologist and a UNLV donor —
all of whom have mentored him.
Montes says Dr. Lloyd Stark, in the UNLV School of Life Sciences, and Dr. Janet Dufek, in the UNLV School of Allied Health Sciences, both gave him confidence in his scholastic abilities during his undergraduate work. “They gave me necessary direction,” he says, adding that they assured him he was capable of the work.
As his interest in becoming a physician grew during undergraduate school, Montes shadowed Dr. Dylan Wint, a neurologist with the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, “He gave me a sense of what being a doctor is all about and even was helpful in how to apply.”
It still seems like a dream to Montes that he received a full scholarship to the UNLV School of Medicine paid for by longtime Las Vegas and community leader Randy Garcia, a 1977 UNLV grad.
“I try to help at-risk youth dream bigger than they probably believe they can,” says Garcia, founder of The Investment Counsel Company of Nevada. “I grew up in the old part of Las Vegas, and it was a little dicey. I think mentoring young people to rise beyond their circumstances is what puts the biggest smile on my face.”
The path Montes took to medical school was far from smooth.
When he was a child, his family of four moved to Las Vegas from East Los Angeles to find jobs. “We were as poor as you can get in America before we moved here. We had little food to eat —
tortillas with salt and beans... We were hungry a lot.”
His father jumped at the chance to work 80 hours a week in Las Vegas as a custodian and dishwasher. His mother worked full time as a casino porter.
With his father from Mexico and mother from El Salvador, Montes grew up with his siblings speaking Spanish. “I didn’t start to speak English until I entered kindergarten.”
As his parents studied to become citizens, Montes got through high school, but he admits to concentrating more on football and wrestling than his studies. “My only purpose was to get some kind of job to make a little money... I did learn something important from a football coach, though, something I always remember. The coach told me, Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn’ —
you don’t lose.”
It was when he nearly lost his mother —
she suffered a heart attack when Montes was 18 —
that he found a real purpose for his life.
“Her heart attack was devastating. I went to the hospital and she was flatlining.” He watched as a medical team went to work on her and a cardiologist brought her back to life. “It was amazing.”
As his mother recuperated over the next several weeks, Montes thought about what he had seen, about her amazing recovery. He now had a purpose. “I realized I wanted to help people in much the same way as that doctor helped my mother. I wanted to be a doctor.”
While working as either a busboy or custodian, Montes went to the College of Southern Nevada for almost four years. “I really had to work hard there,” he says. “Nobody really thought I’d be able to be a doctor. I was having to overcome a lifetime of educational deficiencies.”
Once he says he “learned how to study” at CSN, he transferred to UNLV, where he graduated with dual majors in kinesiology and biology. Still, family obligations forced him to work full time before applying to medical school.
Montes plans to follow the lead of his mentors and reach out to help others.
“I love this city more than I can put into words,” he says. “I want to give back to this community, and I want to help the most vulnerable people... there are so many people in this town who need good healthcare, who can do much more if they understand the opportunity is there for them.”