“And I got to hold it!” Gina Sakoda, a senior at Carmel High School, explains, her long black hair bouncing up in the air as she excitedly jostles in her seat. Her exuberance is hard to ignore as she sits perched in her chair, a smile on her face as wide as it can possibly be.
The inspiring high schooler is referring to a piece of a patella tendon she had once held at a surgery center. While this may have looked creepy or strange to some people, Sakoda’s curiosity and passion drove her to the brink of pure elation. Holding the tendon, she said, “This is amazing!”
Sakoda, a senior at Carmel High School, has had many encounters with doctors, surgeons, and people affiliated with the medical field. Sakoda’s first encounter with a doctor from a student perspective was when she interviewed a plastic surgeon. She learned about his path to medicine and got to hear many exciting stories about his job.
The Monterey native always keeps herself busy by shadowing an OBGYN doctor almost every Friday. Sakoda has also shadowed an orthopedic surgeon and has volunteered at a physical therapy office in Carmel as well. Over the summer, the driven teenager shadowed a neurosurgeon at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, where she got to witness a surgery.
“I stood one foot behind the doctor!” Sakoda gushes with recollection of the moment.
All of these experiences have strengthened Sakoda’s dream of going into the medical field. Sakoda does not know exactly what doctor she aspires to be, but a neurosurgeon is a profession she is deeply fascinated with.
“Not only does Gina pursue a myriad of personal interests both academic and extracurricular,” says Sarah Perkins, a close friend’s mother. “She never misses new opportunities that arise, no matter how full her plate.”
Sakoda has a drive in her, deep inside, that is a motivator and a powerhouse. While many high school students are out with friends or at concerts, this inspiring girl is most likely submersed in her busy schedule. Having taken seven AP classes at Carmel High, and currently taking five more, Sakoda never ceases to do beyond what she thinks is acceptable. Between her insane class schedule, she has clubs interspersed during the school week, including mock trial, which is very time consuming. Sakoda volunteers at CHOMP during the week and on Sundays, as well as in the nursery at her church. Sadly, family time takes the back burner on the stove that is Gina Sakoda’s insane schedule.
“She has a focus as intense as a medical-grade laser,” says Jason Maas-Baldwin, chemistry and environmental sciences teacher at Carmel High School. “She has a determination that rivals the stubbornness of mules, and most endearingly, she has a heart the size of an elephant. She is filled with love and passion for both academia and people. I hope to have her as my physician one day.”
Sakoda’s overloaded schedule does not hinder her friendships either.
“Gina is driven, passionate, and confident in just about everything she does,” Gina’s friend Lauren Tuck says. “Even though she excels in her academic studies and puts a lot of time and effort into her classes, she also puts a lot of time and effort into being a friend.”
Being Japanese and living in Japan for a year when she was younger, Sakoda has grown up with a different culture that has made her who she is today. Growing up on the Monterey Peninsula, and going to the International School of Monterey, Sakoda has been exposed to many different experiences and people.
“ISM has definitely shaped who I am,” Sakoda explains. “Going to a very racially mixed school without an abundance of resources definitely made me so much more appreciative of the resources at Carmel High School, and I definitely took advantage of them more.”
“18 years of school is required if I want to become a neurosurgeon,” Sakoda reflects. “That’s quite a long time, especially if I want to have a family one day.”
The future neurosurgeon is aware that it requires many years of education and work to become a surgeon.
When asked about her dream for the future, Sakoda smiles and says, “Probably something like living in America, becoming a neurosurgeon, having a family, and owning a house in Japan as well.”