One barely survived sepsis as an infant. One is proudly serving his country. And two became engaged in Webber Plaza, the same place where on Friday more than 225 students at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) will find out where they will continue their journeys to become practicing physicians.
Across the country, fourth-year medical students will receive their residency assignments at roughly the same time. Called Match Day and coordinated by the National Resident Matching Program, it matches students with residency training programs throughout the U.S.
At McGovern Medical School, festivities begin at 10:30 a.m. with class photos, followed by introductions and remarks from UTHealth leaders. Beginning at 11:15 a.m., one by one, students retrieve cream-colored linen envelopes bearing their name. Once everyone has an envelope in hand, they are given the cue to open them.
Here are some of the faces of the Class of 2019 at McGovern Medical School:
No one has to tell McGovern Medical School senior Ana Solis Zavala, 26, why the work of doctors is so important. Shortly after her birth in Mexico City, she developed a life-threatening infection called sepsis. She’s alive today because of the care she received. “Growing up, I recall my parents singing the praises of the pediatrician who cared for me. That’s one of the reasons I want to be a doctor,” said Solis Zavala, who moved to the Houston area when she was 11 years old. Like the doctor who saved her, Solis Zavala wants to care for children. “I have a younger sister and I helped my mother take care of her,” Solis Zavala said. “I’ve always loved working with children.” When she’s not studying for medical school, she volunteers to hold tiny newborns in an intensive care unit and to support children whose parents have cancer. Through McGovern Medical School, she served at a summer camp for children with kidney disease alongside Joshua Samuels, MD, MPH, and conducted genetic research with Hope Northrup, MD. Solis Zavala graduated from The Woodlands High School and earned her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. “Taking care of children is what I want to do,” Solis Zavala said.
McGovern Medical School senior/U.S. Navy Ensign Logan Oliver, 26, has already received his marching orders and starts his internal medicine residency in June at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. Unlike their civilian counterparts, students pursuing careers in military medicine get their assignments months ahead of time. As a member of the Navy Medical Corps, Oliver’s job is to make sure sailors, Marines, and their families and retirees are healthy, ready, and on the job – be it land or sea. “My dad showed me the value of service to country and community. I think this is a great outlet to give back to the community,” said Oliver, whose dad Larry Oliver graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served as an Army captain. Not the only doctor in the family, Oliver’s sister Rachel Oliver has already earned her medical degree and is doing an emergency medicine residency in Tampa, Florida. Once the general part of his residency is complete, Logan Oliver plans to specialize in gastroenterology. “A lot of people have gastrointestinal issues. This is an area where I can make a big difference to a lot of people,” he said. Oliver graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, Texas and earned a chemistry degree at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. While Oliver admired and appreciated all his mentors, he was particularly affected by the attitude of Amanda Helminiak, MD. “Dr. Helminiak makes each of her patients feel heard, respected, and well-cared-for, which is a skill I hope to emulate as a future physician,” he said.
Webber Plaza, the beautiful open-air space behind McGovern Medical School, holds special meaning for Ashley Romo and Omare Okotie-Eboh. The plaza, dotted with trees, sculptures, and benches, was the backdrop for their first serious discussion about relationship goals. On Romo’s birthday last fall, it was where Okotie-Eboh proposed marriage. On Friday, the lovely space will serve as the site of another momentous occasion for the couple. Under the same tree where Romo said “yes,” they will learn together where they will begin their residency training in primary care following graduation. Romo and Okotie-Eboh, both 25, will be participating in the National Resident Matching Program as a couple. Their goal is to match to residency programs in the same city. Romo is pursuing her training in family medicine; Okotie-Eboh in internal medicine/pediatrics. Their wedding is set for early April. The couple met during their first year at McGovern Medical School and quickly became friends who leaned on each other for support as they overcame the challenges that come with being a medical student. Their faith, love of service to others, and love of baking brought them closer, and they began dating in their second year of medical school. A medical mission trip that Romo and Okotie-Eboh took together to Roatan, an island off the northern coast of Honduras, further highlighted common goals they shared. Both want to practice medicine in the United States, but they also have a calling to care for those in underserved areas of the world. Ultimately, they say, they would like to serve patients in a U.S. clinical practice that would allow them time to travel periodically to other countries on medical missions. “It is a great joy to provide care to those in need, and it inspires me to be the best doctor that I can be,” says Okotie-Eboh, who grew up in the Cypress suburb of Houston. “We are going to be where we are meant to be,” said Romo, a Dallas native, of their destination for residency.
Cindy Gu, 26, was inspired to go into medicine after watching her beloved grandmother, who helped raise her, battle pancreatic cancer. Gu was born in China and lived with her grandmother while her parents worked in the U.S. When she was about 3 years old, the two went to live with Gu’s parents in Texas. Her grandmother sadly lost her battle with cancer during Gu’s senior year of high school. “Just seeing what all she went through and her experience with the health care system inspired me to get involved and help people,” Gu said. She will be heading to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her chosen field is urology, which matches residencies early. “I love that you can see patients, both in a clinical and surgical setting, and also do research,” said Gu, whose father is a research scientist. “You can see how your research is going to impact your patients’ lives and many times even directly apply it during treatment or surgery. I also find it exciting that through research, you can offer hope to patients who feel that they have run out of options.” Gu says her grandparents also motivated her to specialize in urology, as many of the common issues in the field affect older people. “I saw that issues like urinary incontinence and benign prostatic hyperplasia, or an enlarged prostate, can be embarrassing and cause shame,” Gu said. “I love that by providing treatment, you can vastly improve quality of life for so many people.” Gu said there are many doctors she admires, including Steven Canfield, MD, urologist with McGovern Medical School and UT Physicians. “Cindy is very smart and we’re sad to lose her, but we know she has a wonderful journey and bright career ahead.” Before heading off to UCLA, Gu will marry her boyfriend of nine years in May.
Mani Singh, 26, wants to help patients normalize their life following traumatic injuries. Singh plans to enter into physical medicine and rehabilitation, a specialization that helps patients with physical limitations regain their functionality and independence. “The specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation focuses on patient wellness rather than just the medicine,” he said. “It includes physical health and mental health. These patients may have gone through a big change and they are trying to reclaim their normalcy. Working with those patients stuck with me. It combines everything I like.” Specifically, Singh plans to enter physiatry, a field of medicine that focuses on whole-body treatment of patients with mobility-affecting diseases. He fell in love with the specialty through volunteer work at The Rehabilitation Services Volunteer Project, where Singh said he gained a better understanding of the challenges some patients face after leaving the hospital. The nonprofit provides physical rehabilitation services and equipment to disabled people without insurance. “I got to work with patients one-on-one,” Singh said. “People my age were coming in with brain injuries. Their life was normal, and one day it was not. They wanted to reclaim their normalcy. It could mean to want to walk, talk, or hold a pen. It’s different for everyone, but it was that patient interaction that drew me to it.” Singh is also skilled in the research lab, and hopes to uncover mysteries related to spinal cord injuries. He started his academic career as a biochemistry major at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s fitting for Singh, who practically grew up in a research lab. His father, Waheguru, emigrated from Northern India to the United States to complete his postdoctoral work in chemistry. Singh grew up in College Station, Texas, where he graduated from A&M Consolidated High School. “Research keeps you honest,” Singh said. “You have to stay up to date with new techniques and evidence, and you don’t forget the knowledge base as you progress in your medical career. It’s a long game, and even the small findings you have are satisfying.”