Dr. Darnna Banks

Pediatrics Resident, John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County, Chicago

Darnna Banks always had the focus and motivation to become a doctor. What she didn’t have was the financial means to get there.

A DCCCD Rising Star scholarship opened her first door to higher education, and she began taking classes at both Cedar Valley and Mountain View colleges. Her 2004 associate degree from Mountain View provided the springboard to earn a bachelor’s degree at the University of Hawaii. Then she received a full scholarship to Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine (Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina, or ELAM). She received her Doctor of Medicine degree in 2015 from ELAM after completing its rigorous six-year program.

Now a pediatric resident at John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County in Chicago, she is well on the way to her longtime dream of becoming a pediatrician.

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 majored in biology and theater with a minor in Spanish at the University of Hawaii. After graduating, she started planning how to get to med school — having decided at age 6 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.

That's when she found out about ELAM, one of the largest medical schools in the world. The school provides scholarships from 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. It offers scholarships on the condition that graduates return to their home country to practice medicine in underserved communities. Its 19,000 international students include only a handful of Americans, 21 in Darnna’s class of 130.

Fall of 2015 was a whirlwind: returning to Dallas — and admittedly suffering culture shock after six years living in Cuba — substitute-teaching for the Dallas Independent School District 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 in early 2016 gave me more clinical experience and research opportunities.”

“My schooling gave me a global perspective and the desire to serve internationally,” says Darnna, who is finally getting 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.”