Sheryl Recino Recounts Her Journey from Life on the Streets to Successful Physician
Courtesy of Sheryl Recinos, MD
Sheryl Recino’s story is one of perseverance in persistence. She tells her inspiring story in a new book entitled Hindsight: Coming of Age on the Streets of Hollywood. In a recent interview, Recino explained how she originally began her journey on the West Coast, “The first time I came to California, I was 13. I was running away from a very dysfunctional home and when I was trying to decide where to go, I happened to open up a map of the U.S. I saw that California was far away, so I chose to go there. When I was 16 and my dad asked me to leave, the most logical destination was California. It was the only place where I’d ever felt like I was ‘home.’ It still is.” She calls those days as an unaccompanied minor in Los Angeles “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. There is no safety for young girls living on the streets and I won’t pretend that it was easy. There are predators that look for new, homeless youth and intend to cause them harm.” The teen programs at the time were structured differently than they are today and Recino wasn’t able to find a safe, permanent place to call home for several years. “I lived in ‘squats,’ or abandoned buildings, and even spent a summer sleeping in front of the Pantages Theater when it was shut down,” she recalled. “There were many homeless youth that stayed there back in the 1990s. I stayed in lifeguard towers on the beach, slept on bus benches or wandered around at night, waiting for morning to come.” She alternated between periods in overnight shelters and a life on the streets. And to make matters more difficult, her case managers weren’t taking her goals and needs into account when they were making plans for her. “I refused to go back into foster care, and I didn’t agree with my case manager about ‘reunification,’ which would mean for me to go back to my father’s house,” she acknowledged. “His home wasn’t a place where I felt emotionally safe, and I relentlessly risked everything to live life on my own terms. I felt like I was invisible and unheard for much of my teen years.” Yet despite all these setbacks, Recino finished high school through an independent studies program in Hollywood while she was homeless. At the age of 18, she found her first apartment, was working a full-time job and had enrolled in community college. Everything was finally moving in the right direction. "I had a small studio apartment right across from the college and a stable job that I enjoyed. And then I got pregnant.” After giving up her apartment and job, Recino conceded, “My life was a mess. I ended up back on the streets for several months, often staying up all night at the 24 hour McDonald’s. I was lucky because a few friends eventually took me in and gave me a safe place to stay for the rest of the pregnancy.” But Recino said the birth of her daughter, Roxana, changed her life. “She gave me a reason to become the best person I could possibly be. I saw her and knew that I wanted to be the mom for her that I’d always needed. I was willing to take risks because of my love for her.” She re-enrolled in college when Roxana was two months old, with her heart set on becoming a physician. “There was something magical about the hospital environment and it made me hopeful for a brighter future for us both,” she admitted. “I’d never had positive interactions with physicians before, and my hospital stay wasn’t great because I was young and a single mom at the time. But Roxy’s pediatrician was amazing and demonstrated to me what a true physician looks like. His example encouraged me to be the physician that people would need. So basically, having Roxana completely changed my life in the best possible ways.” Recino completed community college and transferred to UCLA when Roxana was two. She soon married and became pregnant with her second child. After graduating from the university in 2002, she became a high school science teacher in Los Angeles for eight years. She had a third child and decided to put her dreams of a career in medicine on hold for the sake of her family’s stability. But after a good friend asked her to reconsider her decision, Recino tried to give a it a try. She enrolled in a in pre-med classes at CSU Northridge and was accepted into a volunteer program where she got hands on experience. “From my very first shift in the hospital, I knew that I had to chase this dream,” she explained. “I loved it. I signed up for every shift that I could fit into my schedule and was soon asked to join the leadership team to help coordinate the volunteers.” She was 31 with three kids and a non-traditional student. But she ultimately achieved her goal, earning a degree at Ross University in Dominica, an island country in the West Indies. Now Recino is sharing all of the twists and turns of her incredible journey in the book Hindsight: Coming of Age on the Streets of Hollywood. She gave insight on how she came up with the title, saying, “For me, hindsight is a reflection of where I came from and how I became the person who I am today. Looking back, I realize now that my actions during those years were largely trauma-based reactions. Yes, I chose to embark on this journey and come to California, but I was also in need of safety and compassion. Those are key aspects of the care that I now provide for my patients and my community as a physician; I offer compassionate care and treat my patients the way that I would want to be treated.” And it’s her mission to have people take away a very important message from her writings. “I hope that my readers feel compelled to see homelessness differently. I’m hoping that this memoir will help people see the humanity in people who are often overlooked. It’s impossible to know who people can become if we don’t help them through their darkest times." She continued, “I’m also hoping that people will step outside of their comfort zones and offer a hand up to people in our current homeless crisis. Every community needs people who are willing to donate much needed items for people to survive; clothing, food, and so much more. Additionally, we all have so many talents that can be utilized to help put an end to this crisis. Can we build small homes for people, or find housing? Can we set up a network of trauma-informed providers to assist with social work, counseling, job skills, and healthcare for the homeless population? There’s so much to be done, and I’m hoping for a world where stories like mine are our past.” To learn more about Sheryl Recino and her Hindsight: Coming of Age on the Streets of Hollywood visit her official website.