When Maria Cielito Robles started medical school at Michigan State University this year, she was “covered” by her older brother, a physician assistant (PA), who helped guide her career path. Robles’ tweet about the coating ceremony that marked the start of his medical training has gone viral, with many applauding the siblings’ inspiring story.
Robles is a freshman at the Michigan State College of Human Medicine. Brother Carlito Robles worked as a physician assistant for about a year at an urgent care clinic near Flint, Michigan after attending Central Michigan University.
Medscape Medical News caught up with Maria and Carlito Robles to talk about their shared pursuit of medical careers, how growing up in the Philippines shaped their professional ambitions, and what it’s like to be siblings in fields that aren’t always agree, especially on issues of scope of practice.
such a special moment to be coated by my big brother for my @MSUMD white coat ceremony — we’ve come a long way from living in a kubo (shack) in the Philippines #AmericanDream pic.twitter.com/v8GwDCX0FX
— Maria Cielito (Cielo) Robles (@mcierobles) August 21, 2022
Medscape: What prompted you to go into medicine?
Married : It was the culmination of many different experiences throughout my life. One of the most influential events was an accident that left my younger brother with second degree burns, and it was this doctor’s kindness that brought so much comfort to my anxious and worried parents.
I was also inspired by the opportunity to work with and advocate for vulnerable populations, such as immigrants, who face unique barriers to accessing medical care. This was mainly due to my family’s own experience in the United States after we immigrated from the Philippines in 2003.
Carlito: Our mother played a huge role in my love for medicine. She is a nurse and I saw her making an impact on her community… I knew I wanted to enter the medical field at a young age, but I wasn’t quite sure what career path to choose until to have finished my studies. I wanted to be able to care for patients in the community and participate in medical missions around the world.
I considered becoming a doctor, with an APRN [advanced practice registered nurse] and a PT [physical therapist]. The summer after I graduated from undergrad, a friend of mine told me about physician assistants. I took prerequisite courses while working and applied the following year. I ultimately chose to become an AM because of their ability to practice medicine [under a physician’s direct supervision] and have lateral mobility, [the ability to] change specialties without additional training such as residencies. I like being able to diagnose and treat patients and perform minor procedures in my current role, but I also like the idea of being able to switch specialties if and when I choose to.
Medscape: Why not become a PA like your brother?
Married : I was introduced to research shortly after graduating from undergrad and really enjoyed it. I liked the idea of potentially becoming a physician-scientist and conducting translational research to advance medical science.
Medscape: How much did his career choice influence your decision?
Married : I don’t think it influenced my decision, but rather improved my experience. We lived together in his senior year of PA school while I applied and interviewed for medical school. It was amazing to have a built-in support system as we both navigated the respective challenges we faced. I’m also lucky to have someone to study with. When I’m struggling to learn a concept, it’s nice to discuss the material with him as he helps me identify and close knowledge gaps. He’s also good at explaining concepts to me from a different perspective and explaining them in a different way if I’m having trouble grasping something.
Medscape: How did you feel about your sister going to medical school?
Carlito: I am very proud of her. She worked so hard for the opportunity to become a doctor and I had no doubts that she would achieve her goals.
Medscape: What is your relationship with doctors? Will the fact that your sister is a doctor have an impact on your relationship with doctors?
Carlito: I work under two emergency physicians. My role has a lot of autonomy, but I also have a great working relationship with the other providers and can go to them for help. I have great respect for doctors, but I can expect to appreciate their training even more as my sister progresses in her journey.
In a nutshell, we believe that physicians are experts in their respective specialties and physician assistants are an extension of that practice. – Carlito Robles
Medscape: Physicians and Physician Assistants seem to have a professional rivalry sometimes, primarily over scope of practice. Do you think you will have a different perspective as brothers and sisters in these areas?
Married : I appreciate and respect my brother’s thoughts and opinions. I look forward to learning more about his craft and learning from him in general. I see our presence in different areas as an opportunity to share our individual knowledge with each other and support each other as we continue to grow our clinical practice.
He will also have about 5 years of clinical practice under his belt by the time I start my residency, so I’m sure he will have a wealth of knowledge to share with me and help me grow as a doctor.
Carlito: I think my sister and I share a similar perspective on the roles of physicians and physician assistants. In a nutshell, we believe that physicians are experts in their respective specialties and physician assistants are an extension of that practice.
Medscape: How was it to be smeared by your brother?
Married : It was a really special moment. For me, this represented the culmination of my parents’ sacrifices and hard work. They took a chance and left everything behind in hopes of a better future for my siblings and me.
I thought it would be a beautiful time to thank them for making those sacrifices and tough decisions, and for all of their continued support throughout our individual journeys.
Medscape: You have followed your brother’s journey throughout his medical training. What are you most looking forward to? Dreading based on his experiences?
Married : I am very happy with the educational growth to become a clinician. I have seen him deal with the stress of learning so much material and slowly over time apply this new knowledge in clinical practice. It was also amazing to watch his confidence grow as he mastered new clinical skills.
I’m only 5 weeks into medical school, but thanks to our early experience program and many hours spent in the simulation lab, it was really cool to witness this progression [while] learn and master new skills.
I dread having to deal with and deal with difficult personalities in the clinical setting. Medicine is a very stressful environment. I have heard stories and witnessed the negative impact of stressful encounters with preceptors on her experience. I would see the emotional toll it took on him.
Medscape: Do you plan to work together in the future?
Married : I would be very honored to work with my brother. His general kindness and compassion translates into his medical practice, and I know I would learn a lot from him. I remember thinking while he was in PA school how lucky his future patients would be, because I saw how much time and effort he put into studying medicine and building his clinical skills.
Carlito: I think that would be amazing. It may depend on the specialty she chooses.
Medscape: What do your parents think of your medical career?
Married: I think they are very proud. They’ve seen us dreaming of getting into the medical field since we were young, so I think it’s exciting for them to see us achieve those dreams. While my mother was initially worried that we would pursue medicine due to the seriousness of the field, my parents are the most supportive people and always encouraged us to pursue any career that would make us happy.
Carlito: Our parents are very happy and proud that we are and pursue careers that we love.
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