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Minneapolis Clinic of NeurologyVIEW PROFILE
Melissa Castro, Psy.D. (PSI ’13), was born in Mexico to a Native American mother and Mexican father. Her family members were agricultural workers who traveled back and forth between Mexico and British Columbia, Canada. She eventually moved cross-country to Quebec and grew up speaking English, French, and Spanish. Dr. Castro is the first in her family to pursue a graduate education. She moved to Puerto Rico for graduate school to polish up her Spanish-language skills. She completed a two-year postdoctoral neuropsychology fellowship at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where she initially felt like a “foreigner” because she didn’t come from a pedigreed background. Once she saw the rich diversity at Mayo and how committed everyone was to her advancement, she embraced the Mayo culture Today she’s in private practice in Minneapolis. She’s proud to represent her heritage in her field — only 1% of neuropsychology practitioners are Native American.
“I was at Mayo for two years, and I’m eternally grateful they gave me a chance. I felt insecure there at first. I didn’t have a big name behind me and didn’t know anyone there. I felt like a foreigner. Then I saw diversity, and everyone was so welcoming. They wanted to further my development.”
I have a specialty clinic within a group practice of 40 neurologists and three neuropsychologists. I tailor care to the individual’s experience and am able to spend as much time as I want with patients — a service they don’t typically receive elsewhere.
I’m a generalist and deal with any type of neurological disorder. Brain injury and dementia make up a large portion of my caseload, and my research has been mostly in mild cognitive impairment and dementia. I specialize in early diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment — identifying people at risk before they develop dementia. I serve on the state of Minnesota’s Alzheimer’s Disease Working Group’s Culture & Diversity Committee.
I am trained in cultural diversity and do cross-cultural assessments of people from many backgrounds. I’ve been a minority everywhere I’ve lived, so I’m better prepared than most to embrace that uncertainty. Professionals throughout the Twin Cities refer their non-English-speaking and hearing-impaired patients to me.
Being a neuropsychologist is like being a brain detective. I work with people with neurological disorders and figure out how their brain problems are affecting behavior in their daily lives. Behavioral neurology is more akin to what I do, but I approach my patients from a biopsychological perspective. I put all the puzzle pieces together.
I started off doing basic neuroscience research at Ponce School of Medicine in Ponce, Puerto Rico. During graduate school I spent a lot of time looking at brain tissue under the microscope. The gratification in research is so delayed. I wanted something more immediate and to affect people’s lives more directly. It was then that I realized I wanted to work in the clinical realm.
I was looking at internship opportunities at a conference, and I met some people from Mayo Clinic. They were so friendly, and we had a great conversation. I told myself I’d apply there when the time came for further studies. I did and was accepted several years later.
I loved my time at Mayo Clinic. It was the most amazing educational experience of my life.
I was at Mayo for two years, and I’m eternally grateful they gave me a chance. I felt insecure there at first. I didn’t have a big name behind me and didn’t know anyone there. I felt like a foreigner. Then I saw diversity, and everyone was so welcoming. They wanted to further my development.
I once asked a senior neuropsychologist on staff what stood out about my CV. He said, “It was obvious how hard you worked for your education and how you went above and beyond to get the experience you needed. You sought learning opportunities where they were scarce.” It was clear that Mayo values bringing in people from around the world. His words boosted my confidence as a professional. And now I’m associated with the Mayo Clinic name, and it’s part of my professional foundation. That’s golden. I’m very proud of that.
When I walked through the doors and saw all the marble and tall ceilings, I thought, “This looks like no medical center I’ve ever seen. This is where I want to be.” I recognized original pieces of art by well-known artists. That blew me away. I love the idea of healing not just from a medical perspective but from the humanistic side (art and music), too.
I spend enough time with my patients, listen to them and don’t make them feel rushed.
I’ve practiced in three countries with three different approaches to health care. There’s nothing like the Mayo Model of Care. Having several specialists on hand to solve a person’s problem and getting diagnoses quickly is uncommon. People are always interested in how Mayo does that in such a short time and with so much compassion.
I’m proud of my clinical neuropsychology board certification. It can take up to seven years to achieve it, and I did it in three. I was very motivated to get it because it defines you as an expert in the field.
It has only been a couple of years that I haven’t had to study for something. Before, I was constantly preparing myself for the next step. It’s comforting and a relief not to be doing that anymore. Now I can focus on areas I’m interested in.
I have a lot of freedom and responsibility in my practice. I’ve been described as fiercely independent, so that works well for me.
As a trainee, you put in incredible work hours. Your life revolves around your training. All of my energy and focus was geared toward becoming an expert in my field. There are so many opportunities at Mayo, and I tried to do everything, and it was overload. I had four episodes of burnout throughout my years of training. That’s not sustainable.
For the first time in my life, I can pursue other areas and become more well-rounded. To be the best provider I can be, I need to put my own well-being first. I’m trying to put in fewer work hours. By cutting back, I’ve realized my quality of work and patient care have improved.
I want to establish a life outside of work and start putting that first — establish a life-work balance, not vice versa. I like to read, and I want to be more social. I just bought a house with a pond and a stream and will be fixing it up, making a garden and spending time in nature.
My motto this year is whenever you have an opportunity to choose between working and not working, don’t work. I’m a hard worker already, and the work will be there tomorrow.
If you start something, finish it, but keep going until you find what you want. Often you don’t know what it is until you get there.