Salinas Packs His Impressive Résumé for Harvard

Any doubts Miller School senior Joel Salinas had about becoming a doctor disappeared the stiflingly hot summer he spent shadowing an energetic internist who cared for the residents of a tiny, rural town about 60 miles north of New Orleans.

“I was deeply immersed in delivering crucial health care to people who really needed it,” Salinas remembers about the summer after his freshman year at Cornell University, which he attended as a Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholar. “And I found myself really loving medicine.”

Coupled with his own experiences as a patient, that summer of often 20-hour days bringing high-quality, low-cost care to the 3,700 residents of Franklinton is the first of the many valuable experiences — and accomplishments — Salinas has amassed on the journey to becoming a physician.

When he graduates from the Miller School next week with dual M.D./M.B.A. degrees, he’ll take a dazzling résumé to Harvard for his residency in neurology. The highlights include research in places as varied as Iowa and the Amazon; the top graduate student prize in the School of Business Administration’s 2010 UM Entrepreneurship Competition; leadership in the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations and the American Medical Student Association; and the co-founding of MedicOut, an organization for the advocacy of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender medical students.

Much of the credit, Salinas insists, goes to the Miller School: “I am so fortunate and humbled to be a part of the Miller School, which allowed me all the opportunities to integrate and learn from an outstanding breadth and depth of experiences — clinical, social, global — even research and leadership.”

A Miami native whose parents sought refuge in South Florida during Nicaragua’s Sandinista revolt, Salinas was drawn to the Miller School because he wanted to study medicine in a place with outstanding clinical programs and the full spectrum of diversity.

“This is the best place to train if you want a strong program that will expose you to different patient sets and different perspectives in medicine,” Salinas said. “There is so much access to different kinds of hospitals — Jackson, the VA and UMH — great faculty and an established acceptance of multiculturalism. Working in this context makes you a better physician to serve the world we live in today.”

That global mindset, which has become integral to the UM experience, took Salinas twice to Haiti with other Miller School students. In the winter of 2005, he journeyed with another group of students on a Bhansali Trust-sponsored trip to Gujarat in western India, to see how community-based medical programs work in other countries, and to witness day-to-day medicine at Gandhi-Lincoln Hospital.

He drew comparisons to the undergrad summer he spent doing research with the Kayapo Indians in the Amazon rainforest of central Brazil, which resulted in his senior thesis at Cornell: “Influences on Indigenous Groups’ Responses to Water and Fish Contamination Risk Management.”

At the Miller School, he was awarded a Doris Duke Clinical Research Fellowship at the end of his third year, which allowed him to spend a year at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine working on “Sex Differences in Parietal Lobe Structure and Development,” with mentorship from Peg Nopoulos, M.D.

And last year he joined forces with fellow medical student Brandon Faza to enter their QuickWRx venture in the UM Business Plan Competition. QuickWRx (pronounced “quick-works”), a health care information technology firm that is developing mobile applications for medicine. Their mobile technology, designed to empower physicians and medical students throughout patient care, won the $10,000 grand prize in the graduate student category.

Though he acknowledges running a company during medical school was challenging, Salinas pushed his idea and the business forward with Faza and another MBA student, Darryl Doonie. “We believe in the product and believe it deserves the opportunity to have an impact on the delivery of health care,” he said.

Salinas has long been an advocate for efficiency and justice in health care, but his passion stems from personal experience, most notably the challenges he faced when he needed an operation to remove a tumor discovered while in Haiti. Once home, he had to wrangle with his insurance company every step of the way.

“Thankfully, I had the surgery and it was found to be benign,” said Salinas, “but the experience left me with a clear and real understanding of the difficulties patients face.”

He also saw the patient’s perspective during his stint in Iowa, when he suffered bruises to his heart and lungs, extensive facial and body lacerations, and a dislocated elbow after a horrific auto accident. As he slipped in and out of consciousness before paramedics arrived, he remembers attempting to diagnose himself and determine if anyone else was injured.

“I was very lucky,” he said. “Somehow I believe being a patient again was just another step in my journey to becoming a doctor who will always put the patient first.”

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