Interview with UMHS Clinical Student Aaron Vazquez

UMHS clinical student Aaron Vazquez, one of the co-authors of a recent article published in the journal Psychotherapy Research, says he became interested in psychology and psychiatry because he has always been fascinated by human behavior. We caught up with Mr. Vazquez to talk about research, medical school and his plans for the future.

Esther and Aaron Vazquez with their kids in St. Kitts
Esther and Aaron Vazquez with their kids in St. Kitts

How did you first hear about UMHS, and what made you decide to attend the University?

During my undergraduate studies at Brigham Young University, I was killing time between classes when I came upon a graduate school fair held in the auditorium. I decided to enter and saw that there were several foreign medical school display booths set up. I spoke with each of them, but really made a connection with Leon Mattingley, the Regional Director of Admissions, Western Region at The University of Medicine and Health Sciences. He clearly stated the advantages and disadvantages to me of attending a foreign medical school and then went on further to explain the benefits of attending UMHS specifically. After getting information from each of the foreign medical schools, I knew that I would only apply to UMHS. I never applied to a U.S. medical school or any other foreign medical school, for which I have no regrets.

UMHS isn’t a research university, but you’ve had a lot of recent success getting work published as a co-author in two top tier professional psychiatric/psychological journals. Can you tell us about how you got these great opportunities?

Wherever I am living, I have always tried to find like-minded individuals who possess the same interests as I do. My previous academic endeavors led me to major in psychology because human behavior has always fascinated me. During undergrad, I remember devouring the material related to my major because it satisfied a huge curiosity that I had. During that time, I felt that I could not soak up the information fast enough. I believe my curiosity and always asking myself, “why” and “how” when approaching new material, was refreshing to other researchers also interested in satisfying their curiosities through their work. In short, I have found that researchers want to have other like-minded people on their team, which are very internally motivated.

Have your research experiences enhanced/complemented your medical education? How so?

Definitely. Research has complemented my medical education in two ways, primarily. Conducting a randomized controlled study requires harmonious collaboration with a variety of individuals. Playing a role in the orchestration of research activities with patients, therapists, administration and students to ensure that the integrity of the research design wasn’t compromised allowed me to gain confidence as a leader on the research team. All my previous leadership experiences were non-clinical in nature. The second way in which research enhanced my medical education was that it provided me with repetitious activities, which were necessary in order for me to master principles of: psychiatric illnesses, psychotherapeutic modalities, mainstay treatments and common adverse reactions to those respective treatments.

What drew you to psychiatric research?

I approached a visiting Polish-trained psychiatrist, Witold Simon, MD, who was planning to do research on the effect of patient feedback, specifically on patients who were on track for bad outcomes (deteriorating) in therapy. I quickly became part of the developing research team, and in the process he became a great mentor to me. I took notice that he was a different breed of psychiatrist, one who still highly regarded psychotherapy in the context of providing long-term solutions to those suffering from mental illness. Although psychiatrists in the U.S. still receive training in psychotherapy during residency, few,if any, offer therapy themselves as a treatment for their clients currently. The mainstay of treatment rendered by a psychiatrist nowadays is a psychopharmacologic solution. It was intriguing to work alongside a psychiatrist who is still practicing psychiatry in this traditional way.

What role do you see MDs (as opposed / in conjunction with PhDs) playing in medical research?

The didactics are completely different for the training of MDs vs. PhDs. From my limited experience, I saw that the PhD contributes more to medical research by their deeper understanding of theory. Many PhDs are also more adept at skillful technical writing. MDs, on the other hand, went into medicine because they hated writing and studying theory. Therefore, they contribute to medical research by providing insight based on their clinical understanding and experience of medicine. This hands-on experience may allow them to more accurately predict outcomes of different treatment groups.

What advice do you have for current basic science students interested in integrating research into their academic program?

Cancel your Facebook account. Identify what you are naturally curious about. Wherever you may live at the moment, find like-minded individuals who are actively seeking out the answers to questions you are interested in. Ask to be a co-author. Thrust yourself into the work.

Do you have plans for further research in this or any other area while you finish your rotations?

Yes, I hope to publish a case study very soon based on research that I conducted during my breaks in between semesters at UMHS. I am also currently investigating research opportunities here locally in Las Vegas, NV at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

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