a dialogue with...
FRANCISCO (PACO) AGUILAR, M.D.
CLINICAL FELLOWSHIP, CARDIOLOGY
TUFTS MEDICAL CENTER
RESIDENCY: YALE-NEW HAVEN HOSPITAL, INTERNAL MEDICINE; CHIEF RESIDENT
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO MEDICAL SCHOOL,
POSTBAC CLASS OF 1997
Paco is a clinical fellow in cardiology at Tufts Medical Center. He is specializing in cardiac electrophysiology, the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of cardiac arrhythmia. Paco completed a residency in internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine, where he served as chief resident. He graduated from the University of Chicago Medical School. During the interim year between his completion of the Bryn Mawr postbac program and the start of medical school, Paco worked as a genetics research assistant at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with a group that was in the forefront of research into micro-ray technology. He also served as a Bryn Mawr postbac program coordinator.
Bryn Mawr: After graduating from Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, you worked in the banking field in New York City. What prompted your career change?
Paco: I started thinking about my experiences as an undergraduate, when I volunteered with the Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service, also known as “GERMS,” at Georgetown University. There were times when I was able to impact someone’s life at a moment’s notice and make an important change. Those experiences stuck with me. Although I had trained for a career in banking and had what many people would have considered a great job as an accounting policy specialist—my office even had a view of the New York Stock Exchange—ultimately, I felt that I was helping no one. As time when on, I began thinking more and more about my experiences with GERMS, and I realized how insignificant all those other things were. Over time, it became the obvious decision to go into medicine.
Bryn Mawr: Why did you choose the Bryn Mawr postbac program?
Paco: I chose Bryn Mawr program because of its specialized postbac program, track record, and reputation. Bryn Mawr stood out as unique: even before I visited, it was clear that Bryn Mawr had a dedicated program and a well-thought-out plan to help us get into medical school. When I visited for my interview it all meshed for me. Bryn Mawr was a place where I could feel comfortable and supported in a small college environment. It was an academic process, not a series of night classes at a large university. After completing the program, I had a lot of interviews and options for medical school.
Bryn Mawr: What kind of support did the program provide?
Paco: After 10 years, I look back at my experience at Bryn Mawr and wonder what would have happened if I had gone somewhere else? Perhaps I would have reached the same goals, but I think I had a leg up because of the experiences and support I had at Bryn Mawr, including Director Jodi Domsky’s confidence in me. She was able to help me become aware of the qualities that were going to enable me to become a good physician.
Bryn Mawr: You’ve come far in 10 years. How does it feel to be a cardiology fellow?
Paco: I am in a cardiology fellowship, specializing in cardiac electrophysiology. I work on complex heart rhythms, performing ablations and other corrections of abnormal heart rhythms, and implanting pacemakers and defibrillators. It gives me joy that I have become a physician after a journey that began 10 years ago, and I don’t regret a single day of the experience. It was absolutely the right decision. I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than taking care of patients—I think it’s what I was born to do.
Bryn Mawr: What are the challenges and rewards at this stage of your career?
Paco: Unfortunately, today’s physicians have a lot to worry about with respect to administrative paperwork and legal issues. Irrespective of those challenges, it’s great to be able to apply everything I’ve learned —the years of training both in medicine and in human interaction—to make a difference every single day. There are special moments—when I’m with a patient whom I have been able to make feel better, or when I am helping to usher a family of a dying patient into a new phase in their lives—and I realize that I am in a special, privileged place.
Bryn Mawr: What advice would you give to postbac students who just beginning this journey?
Paco: I can trace my decision to go into medicine to a handful of experiences I had in the ambulance. It was those few moments when I discovered that what I did was important. There are a lot of difficult times and challenges when a student either feels inadequate, or like he or she is facing an insurmountable task. You have to focus on your ultimate goal, and never lose sight of it. I would do it all over again because the satisfaction of caring for patients is worth it.