Mother, Daughter Work Side by Side at the Same Hospital

Donovan Recny

November 05, 2021

For the last 20 years, Johana Peña has dreamed of being able to heal her injured father and provide for her family. Following her acceptance to the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids, she'll get to do exactly that — in the same hospital where her mother has worked as a janitor for 18 years.

According to the Washington Post, Peña's path to becoming a doctor was far from easy. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico when they were 18. Her father, Nicolas Peña, sustained a severe back injury when a shipping container fell on him during work, rendering him unable to keep his job due to chronic pain. Her mother, Cristina, took multiple housekeeping jobs to provide for the family. Johana, meanwhile, studied tirelessly.

For her efforts, Peña received a scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley, graduating with a bachelor's degree in public health. Though she wanted to continue to medical school right away, her initial scores on the MCAT were lower than she had hoped they'd be. She was rejected by all 15 medical programs she applied to.

She leaned on her parents for support. They encouraged her to take the exam again in an effort to improve on her previous scores. Unable to focus in the noisy and distracting environment of her home, she went to work alongside her mother at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center to pore over books in the cafeteria. Johana relentlessly absorbed any information she could find in the beating heart of the Oakland hospital, knowing that her mother was nearby providing a vital service to any medical environment: cleanliness.

As a bonus, the pair could commute to the hospital together and share a lunch break.

Upon taking the MCAT exam again, she scored high enough to be accepted to the Michigan State medical program. The following year, she applied and was accepted to an integrated health program at the same hospital she had studied in, the same hospital her mother still works in.

Following her completion of the 1-month program in Oakland, Peña took a photo alongside her mother who was wearing the same blue scrubs as her daughter. The only difference was Johana's hard-earned white coat.

In anticipation of 2022 match day, the day when newly minted MDs are paired with their residency program, Peña tweeted the photo along with a message of thanks for her mother.

"It's crazy how life works sometimes," Peña wrote. "I get to work with my mom, at the same hospital in the same department. She has been a janitor here for 18 years. She raised a Latina physician in the making! Thank you mama, I am so proud to be your daughter!"

The response to the photo was overwhelming. Thus far the tweet has been liked or retweeted more than 160,000 times with praise pouring in from across the nation. Top replies, both in English and Spanish, range from doctors giving congratulations to others expressing their pride in Cristina for supporting the young doctor.

After ascending to Twitter fame with one short tweet, Peña, a first-generation Latina college student, is applying for psychiatric residency programs across the country. Kaiser Permanente, a second home for both Johana and Cristina, tops the list.

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