When Dawilmer Castillo moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic six years ago, he spoke little English. But with relentless determination, he went on to graduate from Boston International High School as class valedictorian and is now a junior majoring in biomedical sciences at Bridgewater State University. The aspiring neurosurgeon is focused on getting into medical school.
Castillo and 21 other Massachusetts undergraduates are closer to that goal after completing the UMass Medical School Summer Enrichment Program for college students who are economically or educationally disadvantaged, or from backgrounds under-represented in the health professions in Massachusetts.
Castillo and classmate Cassandra Ferragamo were interviewed by Worcester Nightly News at the SEP graduation ceremony held on Friday, June 21 for a story that aired on Charter Cable Channel 3 and New England Cable News.
“Coming to this country with nothing but a suitcase full of goals, dreams and motivation to move forward in life was a challenge that I knew was going to be hard, but I was determined to succeed,” Castillo wrote in his application. “Even during difficult events in my life, I persevered and pushed myself to accomplish more than my circumstances dictated.”
His experience at UMMS continues that trajectory. In an intense, four week dawn-to-dusk immersion, Castillo and his classmates were jolted with reality checks on time management, study skills and personal presentation; learned about contemporary and cultural health issues; collaborated in team research on health disparities; sweated through mock Medical Board exams and medical school admission interviews; and—the highlight for many—shadowed weekend shifts in the emergency room.
“Shadowing shows you what it takes to be a doctor, what it means to be a doctor,” said Castillo. “You get to see what your life is going to be like in the future.”
Funded by UMMS, the enrichment program strives to help college students like Castillo and Ferragamo, a Framingham State University biology major and budding neurologist, improve their qualifications and competitive standings for admission to medical or other graduate schools for health care professions. The ultimate goal is to increase the diversity of the Massachusetts health care workforce.
“Besides learning the ins and outs of the medical school application process, one of the most important things I have become aware of is that, unfortunately, health care disparities exist in our back yard and in a range of diseases,” said Ferragamo. “I now have a desire to become a culturally competent physician who, with other physicians like myself, go into a community to raise awareness about diseases that may be affecting them, and decrease the disparity.”
Ferragamo attributes her lifelong dream to becoming a doctor to a combination of personal experience and academic interests. She was inspired by all the health care providers who cared for her father during his frequent hospital visits: he was chronically ill, and succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease when she was just 13 years old. Ferragamo wants to earn a combined MD–PhD in neuroscience in order to conduct laboratory research that may unlock cures to Alzheimer’s and other debilitating neurodegenerative diseases, so that she can do more than treat patients.
Most of this year’s Summer Enrichment Program students hail from the University of Massachusetts and other state university campuses and many are participants in the UMass Baccalaureate MD Pathway Program, underscoring the Medical School’s commitment to supporting local students.
“We set high expectations for you, and you’ve lived up to them,” said Robert Layne, director of outreach programs, at the closing ceremony for the program’s class of 2013, held Friday, June 21 with family members in attendance. “You now understand the commitment and dedication that is required for you to pursue your dreams and your goals.”
Related links on UMassMedNow: