By Zachary Noriega
(October 2020) In 2010, four incoming medical students at the CU School of Medicine were awarded the Presidential Scholarship, which allowed them to pursue their education and their dreams without worrying about financial burdens and growing debt. The Medical Alumni Association followed up with these Class of 2014 graduates to see where they are today.
Carmen Vandal Sepulveda, MD ’14, a Colorado native, is the daughter of working-class Chilean immigrants. The new mother of son Declan is now a family medicine physician at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colorado.
Benjamin Medrano, MD ’14, who is biracial with Mexican and Irish descent, grew up in a low-income family. He is now a psychiatrist in the New York City hospital system in East Harlem, working with a diverse patient population.
Ryan Roth, MD ’14, is now a hospitalist living in Hawaii with his new wife, bouncing between the different islands to work at the rural hospitals in the state. Many of his patients are apprehensive about leaving their island for care.
Maria Velazquez-Campbell, MD ’14, is now a pediatric hospitalist living in New Mexico with her husband. She works for the University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital, where she is associate program director for the pediatric residency program.
All four presidential scholars attended the University of Colorado for their undergraduate education. Drs. Vandal, Roth and Velazquez-Campbell attended CU Boulder, and Dr. Medrano transferred from Naropa University to CU Boulder, and eventually, CU Denver. Drs. Vandal and Velazquez-Campbell each knew they wanted to be doctors from the age 5, while Drs. Roth and Medrano realized in their mid-20s that they were interested in medicine. Dr. Roth, as a result of recovery from a hip injury, and Dr. Medrano, seeking deeper academic pursuits in psychology.
The physicians all recalled the long nights spent studying and the challenging work they faced during medical school. They reminisced about the lifelong friendships that were forged and expressed how proud they were to be CU graduates. None of them will forget the moment they received the phone call to tell them they had been selected for the Presidential Scholarship. Each scholar expressed profound gratitude they feel for the award. They stated that it allowed them to pursue the specialty of medicine they were passionate about, rather than choosing higher-paying specialties or locations to work just to be able to pay off medical school debt.
Each scholar is contributing to the training of the next generation of medical health professionals.
Dr. Vandal remains involved with CU, precepting medical and nurse practitioner students, mentoring a first-generation medical student, helping with curriculum reform, and is involved with Community Students Together Against Healthcare Racism (C-STAHR). She is also involved with residency admissions at Swedish Medical Center.
Dr. Medrano is on the faculty at New York Medical College for their residency training, and teaches community psychiatry, mentoring both medical students and residents.
Dr. Roth recently signed a contract to work at Queens Medical Center, a tertiary care center that educates medical students, residents, and fellows from the John Burns School of Medicine, and will be part of the teaching staff starting in October.
Dr. Velazquez-Campbell is active in medical education at the University of New Mexico. When she first moved to Albuquerque, she mentored several third-year students through their clerkship, and in her new role, now helps with training all pediatric residents.
When asked what advice they give to current medical students, they all agreed that taking time to care for yourself is critical to avoid burnout. Dr. Vandal urges students to practice the form of medicine that will make them happiest. Dr. Medrano suggests meditation and learning how to be your own advocate. Dr. Roth reminds students that when another physician, resident, or even patient, treats you poorly, it is not a reflection of you, but of that person’s life. Dr. Velazquez-Campbell urges students to maintain the pillars that hold up people – family and friend relationships.
In their own words: