Interview with Jaime Carrillo

Shows Jaime Carrillo being attentive to a patient.

Tell us a little bit about your background, including where you are from.

I was born and raised in Colombia, then moved to Houston for college. I majored in biology and minored in medicine and society at the University of Houston, and graduated in 2014. Then I decided to pursue medicine. Studying medicine was in the back of my head, but it was really during college when I started shadowing physicians. That sparked my interest in medicine, so I decided to apply to medical school.

I had heard good things about the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. I knew it was a new school, so when I applied it felt like it was home. Everybody was very friendly and warm, and I think that’s what made me choose the Foster School of Medicine over other medical schools. I am interested in family medicine or pediatrics.

Have you always wanted to be a doctor? What are you interested in studying?

I thought I was going to be a musician. I played the flute in high school band, and I thought I was going to major in music. But then I had an advisor in college who looked at my scores and said, “You did really good in sciences, have you ever thought about pre-med?” I said, “No, it would be nice, but I never really thought about it.”

But I can recall one experience back in Colombia that made me think about careers that help other people. I used to live in Bogotá, and the southern part of the city is where there is a lot of poverty. I have an uncle who used to work for a company that made soccer balls, basketballs and all sorts of sports equipment. He took me out once to give out these balls during Christmas, and I got to see a lot of the poverty around the city. I got to see that I was different; I had a bed, I had clothing, I had four walls and a roof. That was eye-opening for me, and it was a point where I started to think that I wanted to do something with my life that can affect people for the better.

I met my wife, who also attended the Foster School of Medicine, in college. She pushed me to pursue medicine. She is a great doctor and an exceptional example for me, both personally and professionally. I also had a research mentor, Dr. Fox in the College of Optometry at the University of Houston. I approached him during freshman year and asked him if there was anything I could work on and if I could work in his lab. He agreed and became a father figure to me. He helped me a lot and pushed me to learn. My wife and Dr. Fox were very important in my decision to study medicine.

What attracted you to TTUHSC El Paso?

I like that the Foster School of Medicine puts a lot of emphasis on border health, and that involves including medical Spanish in the curriculum. They also allow you to work at different student-run clinics.

During my interviews, talking to the staff and students on the panel, everyone was very warm. The people from Student Affairs had a motherly vibe; you can talk to them very easily. I wasn’t affiliated with the school yet, and they were asking questions about me, which didn’t happen at interviews with other schools. I put the Foster School of Medicine as my top choice, and at 8 a.m. on the day I found out which medical school I was accepted to, the Foster School of Medicine was there and I was incredibly happy.

What year of medical school are you currently in? Tell us about your first year.

Right now, I am a third-year medical student. The first year has a lot of mixed feelings. On one hand, you're super excited that you’re entering medical school because it’s what you’ve dreamed of and worked super-hard to get into. Then you’re thrown into your first year and it’s a lot more material, study-wise. I had a lot of trouble adjusting to that volume of material. I didn’t know how to study properly or effectively, because you need to be really good with your time and I didn’t know how to do this. I reached out to my college mentor and the associate dean of student affairs, and they helped me a lot. They guided me to talk to peers that had similar struggles. But I would say it was a combination of excitement, a lot of material, not being sure how to study and struggling, then recovering thanks to all the support from the school.

Do you have any advice for a first-year student?

I would say there will be hard times, but at the same time, there will be rewarding times. At the end, you are going to see that all the work you put in will lead you to the kind of physician you will be. I would recommend meeting people, exploring the city, having fun and getting to know your professors. Try to figure out how to study well and ask questions; don’t be afraid to ask questions. I thought everyone had it figured out and that I was the only one struggling, but it’s not like that. Ask questions to everyone – students, staff and faculty.

What makes the Foster School of Medicine stand out?

When we’re going through our rotations, patients tell us that they are grateful for us and that we should stay in El Paso. I feel that there is a sense of community, that you need to repay the community that trained you and helped you learn during medical school. Our class is very close – it’s a bond that never breaks. You spend all four years with the same people, so it’s always going to be there.

Is there a memory that stands out during your time at school?

During the first year, I was volunteering at the student-run Salud Sin Fronteras Clinic. All the patients there are migrant farm workers. There was a patient that we saw, and he represented all the things we learned from the social determinants of health in our first year. He didn’t know English and he didn’t have insurance. We tried to address that and, to me, that was important. It is one of the goals I want to achieve at one point in my life – to have more continuity of care for people like him, for people without insurance who don’t know how complicated the health system is in the United States.

There is a physician shortage in El Paso. Would you want to stay in El Paso and practice?

Yes! My wife and I talk about it. She is training in Albuquerque, but we talk about, at some point, coming back and giving back to El Paso. There’s a huge need and a lot of opportunities for physicians to help the community. If I want to do family medicine or pediatrics, there is a huge need. But yes, I definitely want to come back.

Ten years from now, what would you like to see at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine?

I would like to see some type of program that has students rotating through an integrated health care approach. There you would have medical students working with students from the new dentistry school, nursing school and pharmacy school (if they have one by that time) that could benefit the people here. A track or rotation where these students can go to patients’ homes and, as a team, figure out what the patient needs.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to highlight Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Dr. Charmaine Martin. She is a family medicine physician and has motivated a lot of students to pursue their dreams. She is the one who directs the Salud Sin Fronteras clinic. I think she has done a wonderful job of encouraging students to go into primary care, which is one of the missions of the Foster School of Medicine.