Carrillo knew she was born to be a health professional and has been caring for the health needs of people from diverse backgrounds since 1995. Carrillo's special interest in underserved communities and passion for addressing culture competency in the medical field are a result of her first-hand experience in this field. As a child, Carrillo provided Spanish translation for her grandparents during medical appointments.
Carrillo joined the US Navy immediately after graduating from Pioneer High School in 1995, where she served as a hospital corpsman for almost six years. While enlisted, Zulema began her college education at San Diego City Community College. She continued at Cerritos College in 2002 and served as co-founder of the student organization Chicanos/Latinos or Community Medicine (CCM). Through her role on the staff of Project HOPE since fall 2002, Carrillo played a key role in the program's maturity and development.
Carrillo transferred to California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) in fall of 2003 and continued actively volunteering to address the health needs in underserved communities through her volunteerism at weekend A Su Salud Health Fairs sponsored by Sav-On. She also was involved in Hermanas Unidas, Inc., a social Latina student organization at CSULB, and volunteered at the South Central Family Health Center, a non-profit clinic for disenfranchised communities in South Central, Los Angeles.
Carrillo earned a bachelor's degree in Health Science, Community Health Education from CSULB in spring 2005 and continued her preparation to become a physician assistant at the University of Southern California (USC) Primary Care Physician Assistant Program in fall 2006.