Medicine is where the need is
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The daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Denise Nunez will become the first physician in her family when she graduates from Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science on June 6.
During national Match Day on March 18, Nunez learned where she will spend her medical residency in child neurology, a field in which physicians can build strong relationships with their patients.
“It’s a lifetime relationship with children and their parents as they confront neurological challenges,” said Nunez, who is headed to Stony Brook Teaching Hospitals in New York. “These patients need a lot of support and hand-holding through processes that might be very complex and difficult. I love that element.”
Nunez cites a recent story in el Nacional, a major newspaper in the Dominican Republic, which claims the island is home to just 12 medical specialists for 10 million inhabitants, including three pediatric neurologists in Santo Domingo, the capital city.
“I’d love the opportunity to go back and offer care,” she said. “I want to treat people who otherwise can’t afford or can’t access a doctor.”
One of 186 CMS students who matched to top residences across the nation, Nunez grew up in New York City and as a young teen moved to Florida, where she attended the University of Miami. Her parents had a pioneer mentality, she said, and she watched her mother work her way through college and to success in international banking.
“She taught me that you must always think about what’s best for the people who rely on you and advocate for them,” Nunez said. “She avoided banking catastrophes by putting her customers’ interests first.”
That’s a lesson Nunez will apply as a physician.
“I went into medical school because I wanted to do something to make people better,” she said. “In medicine, there’s so much responsibility, so much trust, so much opportunity to care for others. A physician doesn’t have to ask ‘Why am I doing this?’ Medicine is where the need is. I want to be part of a community, to give people what they need, to serve a purpose and help in complex situations.”
Nunez was among the first teams of health professions students to work in the university’s Interprofessional Community Clinic, which offers care to the underserved and where she found her fluent Spanish in demand.
“You see patients totally light up when they know they will be heard and understood,” she said. “I know what my parents went through. When you don’t speak the language, reaching out for medical care is a stressful step.”
The future doctor recalls the time she was approached by Spanish-speaking cleaning staff at the university, who asked her to take their blood pressure.
“That was the proudest moment of my life,” she said. “They trusted me.”
Nunez, who said her years at CMS taught her “I can’t take my Spanish side for granted,” said she chose RFU because of its supportive environment.
“I’ve met some of the kindest, most compassionate people here,” she said. “People I’m proud to know, who know how to support each other and put their patients first. Medicine brings a human element that bonds us all.”