Alexander Tchekanov

2022 - 2023 Scholarship Recipient
University of California, Los Angeles  | School of Nursing


Sitting in the cold hospital interior, tears flooded my eyes uncontrollably, blurring my vision and filling my mouth with its saline taste. I wiped away my tears in vain when, through the haze, I glanced up at the gentle face of a woman offering me tissues. Listening to her comforting words, while wrapped in her tight embrace, I noticed her badge. It read: پرستار (nurse).

When I was six, I lost my grandfather. He was the one who taught me Farsi, chauffeured my exploration of Iran and guided me to manhood. And just like that, he was gone. What remained, outside of my memories of him, was that nurse. Her gentle embrace and the rollercoaster of emotions it brought transformed into everlasting remembrance.

Ten years later, loss struck again. I looked around, hoping desperately to see that same nurse that had comforted me in Iran. No one came. With no one to comfort me, since everyone else was in tears themselves, I sat numb and isolated in the crowded Russian church. Staring into that open casket, tears again fell  this time even harder. When I was sixteen, I lost my father. When I’d cried my last tear, I realized something: Life can vanish in the blink of an eye, so I must use every second, of open eyes, every chance, every opportunity, to the fullest.

With this newfound motivation, I began to explore my interests. I’ve been in and out of hospitals my whole life and I’ve witnessed family leave the world awfully too soon. How could I save others from the same pain I’ve felt twice before? I found the answer through the UCSD San Diego Supercomputer Center research internship. I selected the project studying the molecular mechanisms and development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which gave me the chance to understand an emotionally debilitating disease for millions of families worldwide. I soon became flooded with curiosities, researching biomarkers, analyzing protein pathways and manipulating computational programs.

My motivation drove me to become project lead, write a paper for publication and prepare to present at the 2019 San Diego Biomarker Conference. Despite it all, I
never felt like I made a direct impact. I never comforted someone like how I was in Iran. So, that summer I applied to the Pathmaker hospital internship — to really feel the impact I could make. Simultaneously, my job at Starbucks taught me how to make quick, throughout decisions when under stressful conditions, like a morning rush or a medical emergency. The barista-necessary skill of juggling responsibilities soon came into play during my Pathmaker internship at Palomar Hospital. For example, during a seemingly relaxed shift, on the Medical-Surgical-Telemetry floor, six rooms suddenly needed attention. Ambulating a restless patient to the bathroom, assisting in an external catheter replacement, reattaching telemetry leads and sprinting for clean sheets, I protected and comforted my patients.

A few months later, I found myself working in the Adult ICU. Half way through my first shift, my nurse went to assist one of her two patients. Almost immediately, the other patient burst into the deepest howling cry I've heard… I’ve ever felt. Panicked, I looked around for my nurse, knowing she was preoccupied. As an intern, my scope of practice was more than limited and my shaken nerves probably wouldn’t have allow me to actually do anything, but I knew I had to help. So, I walked in, pulled up a chair, and sat next to him. I sat and held his hand. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t say it was going to be okay (I didn’t know), I didn’t say I could help (I didn’t know how), all I did was sit there and let him know that I, as another human being, was there with him at that moment.

This is when the realization came, that moments like these are where I want to be. Moments where I can most instill the sense of warmth and safety that I once felt. Moments where I would be there for the little boy that needs it most. When I was seventeen, I found my passion: پرستار