Melody Santos, MD ’20 Earns First-Choice Internal Medicine/Psychiatry Residency
Melody Santos has never been a “jumper,” as she puts it—the type of person who can’t contain their excitement after hearing good news. The exception, of course, was when she found out she matched into her first-choice residency program.
“I’ve never been more excited,” says Dr. Santos, a 2020 AUC graduate who will begin her Internal Medicine/Psychiatry residency at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, North Carolina this summer. “After I opened the email, I started jumping up and down, I was so happy.”
Internal Medicine/Psychiatry programs blend training from both specialties, enabling residents to gain a unique perspective on the interplay between the disciplines, which informs their approach to patient care. Just 23 positions were offered in this year’s Main Residency Match®, according to the National Resident Matching Program®.
It’s a perfect fit for Dr. Santos, who became intimately familiar with the overlap between the two specialties during her clinical years in medical school.
“I realized I loved both medicine and psychiatry equally, and I wanted to be able to bridge the gap,” says Dr. Santos. “There’s a misconception that people only have one type of condition or another, as if there’s some sort of disconnect with the brain—as if psychiatric issues don’t affect the rest of the body. They absolutely do.”
THE JOURNEY TO MD
Born in New York, Dr. Santos spent her early years between Puerto Rico and Connecticut before her family moved to Tampa, Florida. She always enjoyed science and thought about pursuing a career as a chemist, but a cousin who worked in a lab encouraged her to consider medicine.
“My cousin explained that, as a doctor, I’d still have plenty of opportunity to do research, but I’d also have the patient interaction,” Dr. Santos says. “I realized she was right. I’m a people person, and medicine offers me everything I love about connecting with people while constantly learning.”
After taking the premed track at the University of Tampa, Dr. Santos was inspired to apply to AUC when a friend enrolled.
“In addition to the faculty and the match rates, he spoke highly of the collaborative environment where it was common for students to share notes, study together, and help each other rather than being overly competitive,” says Dr. Santos. “I got the sense that I would feel at home there. Plus, being from Puerto Rico, I loved the fact that the campus was on an island!”
As a student at AUC, Dr. Santos got involved in extracurriculars such as the Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA) and found a home away from home. She soon came to rely on her new classmates more than she ever expected.
In her third semester, Dr. Santos, along with other members of her family, was diagnosed with granulomatosis with polyangiitis, also known as Wegener’s, an autoimmune disease. Although she had gone home to Florida for the diagnosis, she was back on campus within days, and faced the difficult prospect of keeping up with her medical school coursework while managing a new, chronic illness.
“Sometimes I would be sick and couldn’t get out, and my friends would take me to appointments and help me keep up with my classes,” says Dr. Santos. “It was a really hard time, but they all had my back and it made a huge difference. Their support meant that I was able to get through my courses without having to take a break.”
CONNECTING WITH PATIENTS
Dr. Santos completed her clinical rotations at Nassau University Medical Center (NUMC) in New York, where she sought meaningful interactions with patients and got a glimpse into her future career.
“My psychiatry rotation completely changed my world. I loved talking with patients and trying to figure out their stories,” says Dr. Santos. “And with psychiatry, it’s important to build a deeper connection with patients so they can feel comfortable opening up about their trauma. If you give patients time to talk, it shows that you’re there to listen and you’re on their team.”
Dr. Santos started coming in early to speak with patients, observing the way residents guided conversations with patients while giving them space to share their thoughts. She also drew on interview skills that she had learned as part of AUC’s Introduction to Clinical Medicine (ICM) courses.
“I love that AUC focuses on building rapport with patients as you’re learning about diagnoses and physical exam skills,” she says. “It was really helpful to have already practiced that with standardized patients.”
Her experiences from psychiatry influenced her approach to the rest of her clinical rotations. “In my medicine rotation, I would try to take the patients that had psychiatric issues. I’d do research on my own and would look at connections between, say, patients on dialysis and rates of depression,” says Dr. Santos. “I found myself drawn to understanding how medical illnesses can have an impact on psychiatric illness, and vice versa.”
Dr. Santos recalls one patient in particular who left an impression on her. As the only Spanish-speaking team member on the floor one day, she took on the duty of telling a patient with terminal cancer who didn’t speak English that they would need to transition to hospice care.
“I saw their whole family break down in response to what I was telling them,” says Dr. Santos. “It was the first time I’d had to do that, and it was very emotional. But from then on, I was able to speak with the patient and the family whenever I was in the hospital, and I could help them come to terms with it psychologically while receiving end-of-life care.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO RESIDENCY
Dr. Santos is grateful for the opportunity to continue working with patients and build her knowledge base across medicine and psychiatry at Vidant Medical Center.
“I would have been happy to match at any of the programs where I interviewed, but from the beginning I knew I wanted to be here,” she says. “They met all my criteria in terms of research opportunities and the program focus, and I could tell it was a close-knit community like AUC.”
Dr. Santos compares the residency interview process to “speed dating.” While she made a detailed Excel spreadsheet covering the pros and cons of each program where she interviewed, at the end her rank list came down to a gut feeling.
“The hospitals are presenting the best of themselves—as are you—so pay close attention to what you see, and whether it’s a good fit for you,” Dr. Santos says. “At the end of the day, you want to be part of a program that values you for who you are.”