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Associate medical director, BloodCenter of Wisconsin
Assistant professor of medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin; staff physician, hematology/oncology, Froedtert HospitalVIEW PROFILE
Juliana Perez Botero, M.D. (I-1 ’12, I ’14, HEMO ’17), a native of Colombia, had never considered training in the Midwest. But fate landed her at Mayo Clinic in Rochester for a visiting clerkship in 2010. “It’s hard to find medical centers in the U.S. that will take students from other countries, especially from a new medical school like mine,” she says. Once she was at Mayo, it became her dream to train there, but she didn’t think she’d get in for residency. “Mayo must have seen potential in me.” She stayed for six years of residency and fellowship. She recently found her dream job at the BloodCenter of Wisconsin.
I didn’t think I’d study medicine. I had studied microbiology and thought I wanted to do that. My university opened a new medical school, with a focus on research. I decided to pursue that when I was 19. Two years in, I started seeing patients and decided that I liked the patient side of things. My career took a turn. Then I found my hematology mentor, and that was it.
I’m definitely not a procedure-oriented person. I like the thinking part of medicine. Hematology is a lot of detective work. We see a big variety of patients — all ages and genders, inherited and acquired diseases, easy and difficult problem, people you can and can’t cure. There’s never a boring day.
I knew I wanted to focus on benign conditions. During training, three years of oncology was difficult for me. I knew I couldn’t do that for the rest of my life. It takes a specific and special type of person to handle the pressure of cancer patients every day.
A fabulous hematology mentor back home in Bogota told me, “If you really want to be good at this, you need to train with the best in the world — outside of Colombia.”
Surprisingly, Mayo Clinic was one of the few places with clerkships for visiting students regardless which medical school they attended. Right away, I was impressed with the quality of residents at Mayo Clinic. They were so knowledgeable and comfortable with very complicated patients. I was a foreign medical student with one publication in process and no research experience, so I didn’t think I’d get in for residency. But I matched for a one-year preliminary spot, and then a spot in internal medicine opened up, so I stayed for residency and fellowship.
I sacrificed a lot to get the best training. Life would’ve been a lot easier in California, Florida or New York, but I packed my life in two suitcases to go to Minnesota. The Midwest culture is very different from South America. People in the Midwest want their personal space and are quieter than I am used to. I come from a city of 8 million people.
I’ll never find a place as efficient for patients as Mayo Clinic. You can schedule things all in one day, and you rarely have to worry about preauthorization paperwork or insurance coverage. That all happens behind the scenes. It’s amazing how easy and convenient things are for patients.
I get to focus on blood. The BloodCenter of Wisconsin is very well known and established in the area of benign hematology. I provide direct patient care in the clinic three half days a week along with five other hematologists. I spend about a quarter of my time in the diagnostic lab at the BloodCenter, and another quarter of my time on research.
Fellow alumna Lisa Baumann Kreuziger, M.D. (I ’09, CMR ’10), was already at the BloodCenter of Wisconsin and was helpful in figuring out if it was a good fit for me.
You don’t have the same safety net you had in training, but I enjoy the autonomy and being more in control of my life and schedule. When you’re training, life can be complicated and uncertain. It can be difficult to keep appointments outside of work or even meet someone for dinner. I now realize how important it is to find things to keep you sane and balanced outside of work!
I go to the gym three times a week and have a trainer. I. I’m learning to cook, which I didn’t have time to do during training. I’m traveling, including a big trip to Japan this year. I hope to go to Ireland this summer for a meeting and some time off.
Compassion. Mayo Clinic gives you time, resources and mentors to get in touch with the human side of medicine. That’s not only valued at Mayo — it’s expected. You’re taught how to communicate with patients and to deliver bad news with honesty and kindness. The strong communication skills you gain are useful in medicine and in life. Because you see patients from different backgrounds and all over the world at Mayo, you learn to communicate with anyone.
Mayo Clinic opens doors. Because it’s such a powerhouse, people ask me all the time how things are done at Mayo. How would you treat this patient at Mayo? What drugs does Mayo use? Do they do this assay? Is it true you don’t wear white coats there? People are curious about Mayo. Through the years, I’ve gotten frequent requests from people saying someone is interested in hematology or someone from South America wants to speak with someone who trained at Mayo. The residents and fellows I work with now ask about the pros and cons of training at Mayo. Wherever you go, there’s definitely a lot of interest about Mayo Clinic and how it works.
See past New Chapter stories here.