On Friday, March 18, more than 30,000 graduating medical students across the country will find out which residency program they’ve been “matched” with. This milestone marks the transition from college to residency. At UCI, 96 future physicians will learn where they’ll start their careers after earning their M.D.s in May. This year’s in-person Match Day event will be especially exciting and emotional because pandemic precautions have eased, allowing classmates and a limited number of friends and family to celebrate the “big reveal” together for the first time in two years.
The rigors of medical school can be daunting, especially during the time of COVID-19, but despite the restrictions and uncertainty students have faced, they’ve found support from faculty and gained strength from each other, forming friendships that could last a lifetime. They also made their mark through service, having a positive effect on campus and in the community. Here are three of these graduating students.
Like mother, like daughter
“When we moved to the United States from Romania, my mother, who is an OB-GYN, had to start her training all over again,” says Andreea Dinicu. “She’s now practicing here, but watching her navigate this process while being a phenomenal physician and an amazing mom was just inspirational to me.”
Dinicu knew she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a doctor while an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut, when she volunteered in a mobile clinic that treated migrant farmworkers. Although she had emigrated from a different part of the world than most of the clinic’s patients, Dinicu felt a special connection with them as they shared their stories and trusted her with their care. It was the opportunity to be part of the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community – a five-year M.D./master’s program that trains physicians to be leaders in their fields and meet the needs of Latino communities – that made UCI her top choice for medical school.
“On my interview day, everyone was so kind and welcoming, and it was clear that I would be supported,” Dinicu says. “The PRIME-LC curriculum incorporates additional elements of social justice and advocacy, and that was very important to me. It really symbolized the kind of doctor that I wanted to become, and I knew I would get that foundation at UCI.”
When it came to choosing an area of specialty, both she and her mother wanted to be sure that she took her own path. “For me, all it took was one shadowing experience on labor and delivery. It was just amazing,” Dinicu says. “There’s really nothing like it – that special moment you get to share with patients. OB-GYNs get to be there for patients in both some very exciting moments and some very difficult moments and support them at various stages of their lives.”
Perhaps Dinicu’s mother didn’t exert any pressure because she knew it would only take witnessing a single birth for her daughter to realize what she had known all along. “With the support of my family and my UCI community,” Dinicu says, “I’m eager to pursue my career as an OB-GYN and will strive to utilize my PRIME-LC training to become both a dedicated clinician and an advocate for my patients.”
Your identity is not a mental illness
“I was born and raised female and believed that for a very long time. But when I was 21 years old, I met someone who was transgender and found out that you can transition from female to male. There’s not much media representation of trans men, so I didn’t even know we existed,” says Alex Marlow. “When I realized that I was transgender – and after doing a lot of self-discovery – I understood that this is who I am, this is what I like, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
The transitioning process is inherently medical and psychological, requiring physicians to prescribe hormones, psychiatrists to confirm mental readiness and surgeons to perform gender affirmation surgery. It was during Marlow’s transition that he decided he wanted to be a medical professional and chose psychiatry.
“Your identity is not a mental illness, but social factors – the discrimination and barriers to healthcare that come into play for Latinx, LGBTQ+ and other underserved populations – increase stress, resulting in a higher predisposition to becoming sick, and that’s the sad part,” Marlow says. “Seeing all of those adversities affirmed my desire to become a doctor and give back.”
His support of those communities began at UCI when he enrolled in PRIME-LC. In 2018, Marlow and fellow medical student Kelton Mock received a $30,000 Confronting Extremism grant from UCI’s Office of Inclusive Excellence to expand existing LGBTQ+ health topics to all four years of medical school. Additions include a subject-related community panel session for third-year students and a subject-related clinical skills exam for all fourth-year students.
“Psychiatry is a perfect fit for me, because I’m always rooting for the underdog, always aware of those who are the most vulnerable and don’t have resources,” Marlow says. “I don’t want anyone to feel excluded, because there’s so much healing that can come from compassionate care.”
The stars aligned to bring them to UCI
Dylann Fujimoto’s first encounter with the medical field was when she was in elementary school and her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was successfully treated and has since been in remission, but Fujimoto often looks back at that time of familial hardship as a key reason for her developing an interest in medical research or becoming a doctor.
“After my bachelor’s degree at UC Berkeley, I conducted clinical research in gynecologic and neurologic oncology. I found my interactions with our patients to be very rewarding,” she says. While Fujimoto ultimately decided to pursue ophthalmology, this was a formative experience in which she gained the skills to conduct clinical research and observed firsthand how to be a clinician-researcher. “As an ophthalmologist, I’m excited to care directly for my patients while also advancing the knowledge in our field to help the wider community,” she says.
Fujimoto grew up in a small town on Long Island, New York, but Orange County has always been a second home to her. Her grandparents have lived in Huntington Beach since the 1960s, and she spent many holidays and summers visiting them. Coming to UCI for medical school meant Fujimoto could enjoy the support of her large family network in Southern California. It also facilitated her romance with David Merriott. “We met at Berkeley right before David began medical school,” she says. “The stars aligned, and we both got to come here.” They became engaged right after he graduated from UCI in June 2021.
During her time at UCI, Fujimoto was an inaugural member of the Health Education to Advance Leaders in Integrative Medicine program. She believes this additional education will enhance her ability to care for patients. “It’s a whole-person approach, not just treating the disease in front of me,” Fujimoto says. “In ophthalmology, systemic diseases, such as diabetes, can have devastating visual outcomes. Education about healthy diet and lifestyle habits can supplement medications and surgery.”
With her wedding day set in June and her fiance a resident physician at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, Fujimoto is hoping the stars will align again and her residency will be in or near New York City.
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