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Aspects of a Learner: Aileen Portugal

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Fourth-year medical student Aileen Portugal is a passionate advocate for the LGBTQ community. In 2016, she helped found the first LGBTQ Support Group at SIU School of Medicine.

ASPECTS: Tell us about your childhood.
Aileen Portugal: I grew up in beautiful, sunny San Diego. One of the most awesome characteristics of growing up in San Diego – besides the weather, the beach and the food – is that we are only 20 minutes away from the USA-Mexico border. So for me, visiting my grandma was probably like it was for most people – a short car drive away. It wasn’t until I was 8 or so, that I looked up at a sign that said “Welcome to Mexico” that I realized we were crossing a border to visit her.

What did you want to be as a child?
When I was 6 I wanted to be teacher. My parents bought me an easel and I would use it as my teaching board – explaining the ABC’s to my dolls. Little did I know I was preparing for problem-based learning.

What were you like as a teen?
As a teenager I found my niche in marching band. I played the flute and when I was a senior I was section leader and band president. It was so much fun! We competed all over California and even made it to the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena!

Where did you attend college?
Being the daughter of a traditional Mexican family, my options of college were limited to the ones in San Diego. My parents believed that the only way I could move out from my home was in a white dress, married. So instead of going off to college and having the dorm life experience. I commuted 45 minutes to the UC-San Diego and earned a degree in biochemistry and cell biology. UCSD is an excellent school, but looking back I wish I would have had the typical college experience.  

Why Medicine?
Many factors pointed me in the direction of medicine, but if I could only choose one, I would say that serving as a medical translator at the clinics helped me see the difference the doctors were making in the community. Having to switch from patient to doctor and then doctor to patient through the power of translation allowed me to visualize myself as a future doctor. It felt right and this seed grew and led me to pursue a post-baccalaureate program in Carbondale to have the opportunity to prepare myself and apply to medical school. Today, having just launched the Spanish Medical Terminology course feels somewhat of a full circle for me.

Why SIU School of Medicine?
At SIU I enjoy being surrounded by people who love to teach and are excellent at it. Every day I learn something I did not know the day before! Secondly, what I love most about Springfield is the lack of traffic! Coming from a city like San Diego, it’s a big difference. Accounting for traffic means adding 30 minutes to an hour to your commute; here in Springfield, you add maybe 10 minutes.

What are your plans after earning your degree?
I plan to start a residency in obstetrics and gynecology and then pursue a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. This field merges my passions of wet lab, clinic and procedures all into one beautiful day.

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