One class of biology grads, five soon-to-be MDs
Eduardo B. Biala Jr.
’25 M.D. Candidate
John A. Burns
Ana Francesca Capati
’23 M.D. Candidate
Morsani College of
Enrika G. Espiritu
’23 M.D. Candidate
Our Lady of Fatima
’25 M.D. Candidate
’23 M.D. Candidate
Weill Medical College,
Story by Jackie Hanson
When the bio-medical track launched at the University of Guam in 2018, it was riding a wave powered by an increasing number of students wanting to pursue careers in medicine. Those students have remained steadfast in that pursuit, with five graduates from a single biology cohort — totaling 17% of the Class of 2017 biology cohort — now enrolled in med school in addition to several others enrolled in pharmacy school or physician assistant programs.
That class may just be the first wave of a set, as this trend has continued among UOG students since 2017.
“The number of students pursuing med school, pharmacy school, and PA school has increased in more recent years,” said Associate Professor of Biology Laura A.F. Biggs. “And the bio-medical track at UOG has attracted more of these students, who may have otherwise gone off island to prepare for med school or get a medically focused biology degree.”
The Standard Enrollment Reports for UOG show initial enrollment in the bio-med track of 60 students in Fañomnåkan 2019, which quickly doubled within a year and continues to grow. As of Fanuchånan 2021, the track has 142 declared majors.
Nationally, med school applications were up 18% from 2020 to 2021 — a trend being coined as the “Fauci Effect.” But the trend among UOG students started sooner. So what’s underneath the wave driving UOG students — all of whom will be the first in their families to become physicians — to this ambitious path?
UOG got in touch with the five biology alumni of 2017 who are now in med school to find out what influenced their career choice and how they’re hoping to impact the community in their future practice.
Ageline: I was born and raised in Saipan, where both my mom and dad had been diagnosed with cancer in two separate instances. As my family experienced these hardships, it became apparent to me the vast need for more doctors, both general practice and specialized, in the Pacific Islands.
Eduardo: A pivotal moment in my mind that inspired me to go to medical school was dealing with the loss my grandfather. During high school, I remember spending my afternoons visiting him at GMH, watching over him. […] Experiencing and seeing what the physicians and other health care team members did throughout his illness inspired me to pursue a career in medicine.
Aubriana: In college, I began volunteering at GMH, where I was deeply inspired by the resourcefulness and passion of our local doctors in caring for our people. While volunteering with the Guam Homeless Coalition and later conducting community-based research with the UOG Pacific Islands Cohort on Cardiometabolic Health Study (PICCAH), I realized the disproportionate impact of chronic disease in Guam as well as the multilevel barriers our local population faces in accessing their health care needs.
Ana: I've always enjoyed science, brought upon by my amazing science teachers in high school […], but it wasn't until my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor that I realized the importance of the field of medicine.
Enrika: I spent more than half of my college career torn between wanting to pursue a Ph.D. in marine biology or a medical degree. During my last year of college, I realized that although I was incredibly passionate about marine bio, my heart wanted to serve the world differently. After undergrad, I applied to work at the Guam Memorial Hospital lab to test the waters of a medical setting. It didn't take me long to realize that this is where my heart feels the most filled.
Ageline: I believe what motivated many in my cohort was the friendship and tight-knit sense of community that could only develop at a small school like ours. It never felt like we were competing with each other; we never hesitated to lend out a helping hand or to share resources.
Eduardo: Many of my classmates aspired to pursue medicine in order to address the need for physicians in Guam and the greater Pacific basin. In particular, there is a lack of specialists on island […] Amongst my classmates, there has always been a strong sense of pride and passion to serve our island, and several of us found that calling through pursuing medical education, with the ultimate hope to return home and give back to the community that helped us.
Aubriana: I think that we all saw a collective need for improvements in our current health care system on Guam, and we wanted to be a part of the solution. Specifically, I feel that we were drawn to fill the gap for more home-grown doctors that are uniquely suited to care for our island community.
Ana: The health care system in Guam is very limited, I saw this firsthand when my dad needed neurosurgery and had to leave off-island for treatment. For those with similar experiences, a desire to improve the health disparity in Guam tends to be the fuel that ignites many students desire to pursue a career in medicine.
Enrika: To this day, it is known that there is a shortage of health care professionals and services available in Guam. The increasing number of pre-medical students at UOG is a good sign that that is about to change. There's a new age of doctors preparing to serve the island, many of whom are entirely Triton raised.
Ageline: The education you get at UOG will prepare you to apply for and do well in medical school as any other undergraduate institution in the mainland U.S. would. Mentorship at UOG was especially stellar. There were always professors I could trust to write amazing recommendations for me for summer programs, other scholarship grants, and for the medical school application cycle itself. This is something I find that my peers from other institutions struggled with.
Eduardo: Working with the professors and finding physician mentors within the community were crucial in my journey towards pursuing and ultimately matriculating to medical school. At UOG, the professors of the Division of Natural Sciences at the College of Natural and Applied Sciences were extremely supportive in ensuring that our experience at UOG was equivalent to any other science program in the mainland U.S.
Aubriana: Having a strong support system with other students in the Biology Program was crucial to my success at UOG. There are many rigorous science course requirements for medical school, and having the tightly knit, collaborative learning environment at UOG contributed greatly towards my success in these courses.
Ana: With the guidance of many of the professors at UOG, [I found that] research fueled an inquisitive mindset that is crucial to succeeding in medical school. Asking the right questions, investigating, and synthesizing conclusions that help propel the world of science forward are all priceless tools to anyone interested in medicine.
Enrika: [...] Because UOG isn't as big as other stateside universities, students really had the opportunity to get to know their professors. The greatest gift that the program gave to us was the undeniable support the biology professors had for each and every one of their students, whether it be for medical school or graduate school.
Ageline: We would encourage and check up on each other while studying for the MCAT, while preparing for interviews, and we confided in each other's rejections and acceptances as well.
Eduardo: Collaboration was very big in my cohort. […] Seeing and hearing their stories and experiences and being able to reach out to them for advice was a great way to learn the process and even seek advice. It was also, in a way, motivational seeing friends get accepted into medical schools, as it affirmed that medical school is something feasible for a student from Guam.
Aubriana: […] There was certainly a ton of overlap in regards to building our extracurricular experiences towards medical school. For example, Ana and I did summer research in upstate New York and were organic chemistry teaching assistants at UOG together. […] In addition, since Ana was in medical school while I was still applying, she provided lots of support and advice regarding the MCAT and the medical school application process.
Ana: We often found solace in our colleagues who were experiencing the same challenges — from exam preparations, interview anxiety, and just the overall stress of being a premedical student. I still remember my conversations with Ageline — we applied during the same cycle. It was comforting to know that I was not alone, and I had friends to help me during our journey.
Enrika: I was fortunate to find a group of friends in my undergraduate experience who were as equally motivated and passionate about pursuing medicine. We always studied together until the early hours of the morning, which helped keep everyone on top of things. Aside from studying, we always volunteered together, from doing morning activities at the Senior Care Center to judging at science fair competitions. This incredible dynamic has brought all of us to accomplish amazing things, now, almost five years after graduating.
Ageline: I am planning to apply to combined pediatrics–emergency medicine residencies. With this combined program, I will be board-certified in both pediatrics and emergency medicine and will have the flexibility of caring for adult patients if needed. […] I believe my role for the future is to become a potential uniting force for partnerships with medical schools and UOG. I want to make it easier for students from Guam and the CNMI to make their dreams a reality.
Eduardo: I am interested in either surgery or gastroenterology. While my ultimate goal is to return home back to Guam, I foresee myself working and serving the greater Pacific basin, working in Hawaii. I personally feel like I have a kuleana — a responsibility to serve the communities and people who helped me throughout my journey in medical school and medicine.
Aubriana: I am tentatively interested in applying to internal medicine residency after medical school. Returning to Guam to practice is a lifelong goal of mine, simply because of the love I have for our island people and my determination to give back to the community that raised me. Patients I have met in Guam have always been so encouraging after learning I wanted to go to medical school, telling me that our island “needs more doctors” and to “make sure I come back.” It’s exactly what I intend to do.
Ana: I have multiple interests as of now, the top being obstetrics and gynecology. I am also interested in family medicine and neurology. I do plan to return to Guam. I want to give back to the community that invested in my education, to all my teachers, mentors, and friends.
Enrika: After med school, I plan to pursue a residency in family medicine. I find comfort in the idea of continuity of care, from childhood to adulthood. My main goal has always been to come back to serve the island of Guam. My time working at the GMH lab allowed me to see and experience how it can easily feel like you are providing care for your own family. The warm island love shared between health care providers and patients is what I look forward to the most when I return home.