Interns Inspired by Family: Three Brigham Match Day Stories
Across the 18 Brigham residency programs participating in Match Day — when thousands of medical school students across the country discover where they will continue their medical training — 248 aspiring physicians matched at the hospital this year.
“We are so excited by our Match Day results and to welcome this amazing group of interns,” said Maria Yialamas, MD, director of the Brigham’s Internal Medicine Residency Program, which will welcome 77 interns this summer. “We are thrilled by the diverse backgrounds and interests of these talented physicians who will become health care leaders. The future is very bright.”
Yialamas added that 56 percent of this year’s class of Internal Medicine interns are women and 27 percent represent racial or ethnic identities that are underrepresented in medicine (URiM). Across all Brigham residency programs, 54 percent of matched interns are women and 21 percent are URiM trainees.
Current Brigham intern Sachit Singal, MD, said he looks forward to being there for his newest colleagues as they embark on the next stage in their training.
“As cliché as it may sound, the people that comprise ‘the Brigham family’ are its strongest asset, and it has been wonderful to become a part of that family over the past year,” he said. “As I transition into second year and begin leading medical teams, I aspire to cultivate an environment in which my interns feel safe, supported and confident to pursue their learning and growth as physicians, much like the environment I was given this past year.”
In celebration of Match Day 2023 on March 17, Brigham Bulletin spoke with three newly matched interns to hear what inspired their paths to medicine.
From Nursing Assistant to Doctor, Advocating for Patients All the Way
Noelle Castilla-Ojo’s path to becoming a doctor was inspired by her immigrant parents. “My mom was one of 12 kids growing up in the Philippines and didn’t go to college — not because she didn’t want to, but because she didn’t have the opportunity,” Castilla-Ojo said. “My parents always encouraged me to get an education and do something that would make me happy.”
It turned out that taking care of others is what makes her the happiest. When Castilla-Ojo was 3 years old, her mother, Conchita, who didn’t have access to health care, became a nursing assistant. “My mom took such great care of others, but she had no one to take care of her,” Castilla-Ojo said.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Castilla-Ojo worked as a nursing assistant in a memory care unit while in college at Northeastern University.
“I really enjoyed caring for people and giving them pieces of their life that they used to enjoy, like their favorite food or music or clothing,” she said. “That felt like a really important part of the care process.”
Seeking more leadership opportunities and the ability to have greater impact, Castilla-Ojo decided to pursue a medical degree and was accepted to Harvard Medical School (HMS), where she went on to co-found a geriatric outreach club that pairs students with residents at senior living facilities. Though originally conceived as a program focused on having students accompany the residents to their medical appointments, the club shifted its focus during the pandemic to remote outreach to help patients combat loneliness and social isolation.
On Match Day, with her mother and her partner, Justin, by her side, Castilla-Ojo opened her envelope and was overjoyed to find that she had matched into the Brigham’s Internal Medicine Residency Program.
“It felt surreal,” she said. “You think about matching the entire time you’re in medical school, and then it finally happens. All my cousins and aunts and uncles in Nigeria and the Philippines were all sharing pictures and celebrating along with me. I’m the first to attend college in the U.S., so this means so much to me, as well as to the many people who have bolstered me up to this point.”
Castilla-Ojo is excited to join the Brigham, a place she knows and loves.
“I wanted to become a doctor who does more than just prescribe,” she said. “When I did my primary rotations at the Brigham, I saw residents being praised for taking care of their patients in many ways other than just with medication. That’s the type of position I want to be in.”
She looks forward to learning best how to advocate for her patients.
“In this primary care program, there’s an emphasis on social justice. I’m excited to be mentored and do more work with health disparities within geriatrics,” she said. “I’m just really grateful for the opportunity, and I’m sorry in advance for all the questions I’m going to ask!”
Answering an Unexpected Call to Serve — from the U.S. Surgeon General
Adam Beckman describes his grandmother as one person who inspired him to pursue medicine. Trained as a social worker, she continues — in her 90s — to provide mental health care for her patients. She taught Beckman from an early age about injustices in the health care system and the responsibility to promote social justice.
“She taught me about healing relationships — about the power of using one’s voice to advocate for people left unheard,” Beckman said. “At the Brigham, I was pulled in by the way trainees talk about clinical care and the range of work they are doing to address the challenges of accessing needed medical care in America. Learning from them makes me honored and delighted to join the Brigham internal medicine and primary care community.”
As an undergraduate, Adam got a taste of interdisciplinary work related to medicine and the role physicians can play. With the Global Health Justice Partnership at Yale University, he was part of a team working to improve access to hepatitis C medications among incarcerated populations.
“I was struck by the power of doctors, epidemiologists, lawyers and government officials working together to tackle a medical and public health crisis,” he said.
During medical school at HMS, Beckman had the unusual opportunity to again be part of such interdisciplinary work. He was asked by Brigham alum and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, to serve as a special advisor to the surgeon general during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beckman described taking a one-year leave of absence to work in the Biden-Harris Administration as both terrifying and a remarkable chance to serve.
Looking back, Beckman said working in government helped give him perspective on the role of clinicians.
“Federal government is — at its best — simply a lot of people working hard to make our country, our medical system and our public health infrastructure better,” he said. “I have met many medical students, residents and health care workers we would be lucky to have contributing to that work.”
As he prepares to begin his residency at the Brigham, Beckman is focused on learning to be part of a clinical team and become a highly skilled doctor, a journey he knows takes a long time. He sees the Brigham as a very special place to train for those roles.
“In many ways, what I am most looking forward to is meeting my co-residents and being part of this community,” he said.
Though unsure precisely where his path will go, Beckman hopes to follow in his grandmother’s footsteps.
“She has shown me that serving patients until the final years of one’s life can be deeply impactful and bring continuous joy,” he said. “I hope to experience that too.”
Driven to Care for the Vulnerable
Rebeca Vergara Greeno’s interest in medicine came from an unlikely place: a lack of exposure to medicine and doctors growing up. “My family didn’t have any health insurance for a period of time during my childhood,” she said. “I think I went to maybe one doctor, which is kind of a rarity. Luckily, I was a healthy kid.”
Unfortunately, not all her family members were so fortunate. Her close-knit family moved from Guatemala to Las Vegas when she was a child, and they all lived in the same apartment complex.
“I had the experience of seeing one of my uncles pass away from liver cirrhosis in his own home because he didn’t have health insurance and didn’t go to the hospital,” Vergara Greeno recalled.
She also watched her Norwegian-American mother struggle to access care for a curable type of skin cancer.
“It was cheaper for her to go back to Guatemala than to pay out-of-pocket costs here in the U.S.,” she said. “It wasn’t until my mom finally qualified for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act that she was able to get proper treatment. Although I didn’t know it at the time, watching my family struggle with the many social factors that deter people from seeking medical care helped shape my earliest interest in medicine.”
Vergara Greeno’s desire to go into medicine was kickstarted in college when she started working as an interpreter in a free clinic.
“I saw a whole population of uninsured people who were dealing with many more issues than my family had, including not being documented,” she said. “That’s when I really connected with that patient population and felt like medicine was a place where I could be the most useful.”
She continued on that path in medical school at Yale School of Medicine, where she became one of the directors of a student-run clinic that served a large population of uninsured patients during the peak of COVID-19.
As an aspiring doctor, Vergara Greeno believes her experiences help her empathize with patients.
“I think I can connect and build trust with patients, but I also understand I can’t assume I know everything about a patient based on a shared culture or experience,” she said. “I try to ask open-ended questions and stay open to all possibilities.”
Vergara Greeno was ecstatic to learn she had been matched with the Brigham.
“There are a lot of things at the Brigham that really overlap with my interests, including their global health work in Guatemala,” she said. “There’s also a very strong primary care track where I can build on the knowledge that I have. My focus is on becoming a well-rounded primary care physician so I can give my patients the best care possible. And I think the Brigham is the best place to do that.”
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