Dr. Brian Hernández-Colón, UMHS 2020 grad, was delighted to learn that he obtained an OB-GYN residency at St. Luke Episcopal Medical Center in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Dr. Hernandez-Colon is just one of several UMHS grads to match in their Puerto Rican homeland.
Born in San Juan, Dr. Hernández-Colón lived in Carolina, PR most of his life, and will now complete his residency in Ponce, on the southern coast of the island. The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Dr. Hernandez-Colon about why he decided to become a doctor, why he chose UMHS in St. Kitts for med school, his advice for other students from Puerto Rico, why he wanted to do residency in Puerto Rico, his thoughts on the healthcare needs of the island after Hurricane Maria, the COVID-19 pandemic and more.
Dr. Brian Hernández-Colón. Photo courtesy of Dr. Brian Hernández-Colón
Becoming a Doctor in Puerto Rico
Dr. Brian Hernández-Colón was always interested in medicine but it was not until his second year in college that he decided to pursue it as a career when he chose microbiology as his major.
What made him decide on attending UMHS as opposed to other American or Caribbean medical schools?
“After attending a UMHS conference given by [UMHS Senior Associate Director of Admissions for the Southeast and Puerto Rico] Earl Mainer, I knew I wanted to attend UMHS because of their high USMLE Step 1 passing rate and the fact that I would be able to do my clinical rotations in Puerto Rico,” he said. “I also learned about former UMHS students who matched at residency programs in Puerto Rico, which is what I wanted to do.”
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Professors Made a Big Difference
Dr. Brian Hernández-Colón was especially impressed with the first-rate faculty at UMHS, many of whom come from the U.S. and Canada.
“One of the best things UMHS offered me was their amazing professors,” he said. “Most of them genuinely cared about us students and they gave great lectures targeted towards high yield topics which I am sure gave me a solid foundation and prepared me for taking USMLE Step 1 and 2 CK. Some of my favorite professors were Dr. Anoop Jalan, Dr. Jagadeesh Nagappa, Dr. Prakash Mungli, Mrs. Jalan, Dr. Sudhir Ambati, Dr. Alfred Roy and Dr. Abayomi Afolabi because they never failed to deliver their class with excitement which motivated me to pay attention in class, study hard and learn the material the best I could. I appreciate how approachable and willing to answer all of our questions they all were.”
He appreciated the state-of-the-art UMHS campus and how he was able to focus on studying,
“I think by attending UMHS in St. Kitts I was able to concentrate more on my studies. Also having the support of my fellow classmates, who were all experiencing this new adventure along with me was so important and pushed me to the best that I could in my classes. I think that time in the island really shaped me into a more well-rounded physician. The memories and friends I made in St. Kitts will always be special to me.”
The school really prepared him for a medical career by instilling necessary qualities for success.
“Attending UMHS, I learned to be resourceful, resilient, adaptable, perseverant, independent, and disciplined, all of which are great qualities to have as a physician.”
Dr. Brian Hernández-Colón was pleased he matched in Puerto Rico. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Brian Hernández-Colón.
Clinical Rotations Helped Him Match
Dr. Brian Hernández-Colón found the clinical rotations at UMHS helped him match. Since he wanted to work in Puerto Rico, he was able to most at the hospital in which he wanted to eventually obtain a residency.
“I took advantage of doing most of my clinical rotations in the hospital I wanted to match in, which gave me the opportunity to make myself known by working hard. I am sure this was key to having a successful match.”
Advice for Med Students from Puerto Rico
Dr. Brian Hernández-Colón said he “definitively” wanted to return to Puerto Rico, his homeland, for residency. He had many reasons for coming back to his native island to help the people there.
“I decided to go to UMHS having in mind that I would do most or all of my clinical rotations in my island of Puerto Rico so I would increase my chances of getting into a residency program here. It is my goal to be able to help and take care of the people in my community. I can’t imagine being a medical physician anywhere else than Puerto Rico.”
What advice does he have for current or incoming students about attending UMHS and also the Match process, specifically for students from Puerto Rico who want to Match there.
“Take everything step by step. The road to becoming a physician is long and bumpy so it is best to always focus on the task at hand and pace yourself by having small goals. For example, during basic sciences, focus on the next block of exams and finals, during Maine focus on the exit exam, later on Step 1, then Step 2, etc. Always try your hardest and when you don’t feel like it, remember the reason why you started in the first place. The hard work really does pay off in the end. Also, remember to make some time for the things that make you happy; you will need that break to refill your energy in order to keep going.”
OB-GYN Residency in Puerto Rico
Dr. Brian Hernández-Colón was fortunate to obtain a residency in his top choice of hospitals in Puerto Rico, in the specialty that interested him the most, OB-GYN.
“I will be doing my OB-GYN residency at the St. Luke Episcopal Medical Center located in Ponce, Puerto Rico. This residency was my first choice because I have witnessed how well the residents work together as a team and I like that the attendings take their time to teach.”
He first became interested in OB-GYN when he took an Obstetrics and Gynecology clerkship as his first rotation at UMHS.
“The day I witnessed my first delivery, I told my wife that I wanted to become an OB-GYN,” he said. “I was drawn to its variation between surgery, hands-on procedures, primary care and the excitement and joyfulness that can come from obstetrics. This is a specialty where you really connect with patients by developing genuine relationships at crucial life milestones. The rest of my core rotations only solidified the fact that it was truly what I wanted to become.”
Many aspects of OB-GYN fascinate Brian Hernández-Colón.
“By the time I was rotating in Maternal Fetal Medicine, I was convinced this is what I am supposed to do. I loved learning about the intricate fetal anatomy and the art of interpreting a fetal sonogram. The importance of discovering predictable factors for diseases and searching for red flags as a form of prevention complement my problem-solving personality. I am intrigued by how we can intervene and possibly change the prognosis of that little human’s life from that moment on. I appreciate not only women’s health but also the baby’s health. Obstetrics and its rewarding moments gave me the reassurance I needed to choose this medical career.”
He has many objectives for his career.
“I hope to become a great OB-GYN by working hard as a resident,” he said. “I also hope to go into a sub-specialty in the future.”
Dr. Brian Hernández-Colón on first day of third-year PNG. Photo: Courtesy of Brian Hernández-Colón
Hurricane Maria & the COVID-19 Pandemic
Dr. Hernández-Colón said the current COVID-19 pandemic has brought new meaning and purpose for doctors and healthcare professionals.
“I think it has always been a crucial time to be a doctor, but now more than ever the importance of health and the professionals who work hard to defend it has become clear. A threat to our health affects every aspect of our lives, from economic to emotional, and it is crucial to have well-equipped professionals in charge of dealing with it.”
He has not yet worked with any COVID-19 patients, but he has many thoughts on what med students and new doctors should know about the virus, noting “that it has to be taken seriously and we all have to do our part and work together to overcome it.”
In many states and areas, businesses opened early without doing adequate testing and contact tracing, and some regions are seeing spikes in cases. What are his thoughts?
“I understand the need to reopen some businesses and get the economy going again. I do see the repercussions that not doing so could have. But I think these businesses should be responsible and take the necessary measures to reopen in a safe way that won’t revert the progress that has been made.”
The federal government’s response to both Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017 and the current COVID-19 pandemic nationwide have been criticized by many in the medical field. When asked if he sees parallels between the federal handling of Hurricane Maria and COVID-19, Dr. Hernandez-Colon minces no words.
“Something I have learned from both situations is that we cannot rely fully on the government for their help,” he said. “President Trump and the U.S. government clearly have an agenda of their own which does not include people’s well-being as its core. After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico was able to move forward and rebuild mainly due to people in the communities that took action. It’s the same thing with this pandemic; it is up to us to control the spread by opting to stay in our homes and taking proper precautions whenever we need to leave the house.”
Facts and myths about COVID-19 run rampant in both the press and social media, so he believes physicians have a duty to their patients to give facts.
“Since there is so much false information going around about COVID-19, I think one very important task that doctors have today is to properly educate their patients and others. Some easy and effective ways to do this are through social media and direct communication to their patients. As physicians, it is also important to emphasize preventive measures for COVID-19 as well as for all other diseases.”
Some younger people have chosen to ignore the warnings and precautions about COVID-19, including not wearing masks in public and refusing to social distance. What would he like to say to people not willing to adhere to public health protocols because they think the virus is no threat to younger people?
“I would tell them that this is not correct [behavior],” Dr. Hernández-Colón said. “There have been many reported cases of patients under 40 years of age that have been affected by the disease. It is simple; we are all at risk for either transmitting or getting the disease, regardless of our risk factors. At the moment, there is so little we know about the virus that we cannot let our guard down because new information can be discovered every day.”
(Top photo) Dr. Brian Hernández-Colón with his wife. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Hernández-Colón
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Scott is Director of Digital Content & Alumni Communications Liaison at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City, StageZine.com.