“Doc, which C is worse for me… cancer or coronavirus?” Many patients asked this question. The anxiety of a new cancer diagnosis, waiting to start treatment, and then suddenly news of a pandemic changed everything for all cancer patients. Bewildered, some patients would hesitate to come to the hospital while others would try to hide their viral symptoms to prevent interruption of treatment. COVID-19 has presented varying challenges to all health care professionals, and being a resident physician involved in caring for cancer patients has its own unique difficulties.
Unlike many of my colleagues in the medical field, I took a very unconventional path through my postgraduate training. Throughout medical school, I was convinced I was destined to be a surgeon. I loved anatomy, loved my surgical rotations, and thought that this was my destiny. Then on my first day as a house officer in general surgery, I stood for 9 hours in a laparoscopic hemicolectomy, without any breaks for eating or going to the bathroom, and suddenly my life choices became much less clear. I struggled a while longer, but eventually I put away my scalpel, took up my neglected stethoscope once again, and I took up a formal internal medicine training post in New Zealand, starting on another journey. Everything started to make sense for a change. The flow of hospital medicine, the critical thinking, the lack of having to stand in an OR for several hours with a full bladder and an empty stomach, it all finally came together. As it turned out, one shake-up was not enough, and as I rotated through stroke and neurology, I found a hidden interest that I wished to take further. Being inspired by some American mentors, I decided to apply for training in the USA, and began residency at the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center, San Antonio Texas in June 2018. After all my continent hopping and specialty changes, at last I seemed to be on the right track.
Clinical training in America’s most populous city is known for being vigorous. If you’ve done any residency or fellowship training in New York City, you know that there is little downtime—chances are you’re busy year-round! The patient population here is perhaps the most diverse in the world and that fact is reflected in the rich clinical exposure; training in NYC is a qualification in itself. My wife and I, both physicians, moved from Trinidad and Tobago in June 2014 to pursue residency training in internal medicine at the BronxCare Health System. After completing residency, I completed a fellowship in pulmonary diseases at the same institution before moving to Montefiore Medical Center for training in critical care medicine. After almost six years in NYC, I found myself feeling comfortable managing very sick patients in almost any clinical context, but I was soon to be put out of my comfort zone.
I was born and raised in Costa Rica, a small country in Central America with close to 5 million inhabitants. I was always passionate about science, and after debating for a long time, I decided to pursue training in medicine. I did my medical school in San José, Costa Rica, at the Universidad de Costa Rica. I also completed a residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Critical Care in my home country.