PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Two years ago — just as the members of this year’s Warren Alpert Medical School graduating class were set to begin the clinical portion of their training — the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, and the hospitals where students were scheduled to train were overwhelmed. The situation has stabilized, but the pandemic isn’t over. Next month, the Class of 2022 will again head into hospitals and medical centers, this time as resident physicians with hard-earned M.D.s.
In addition to their formal training and education, this year’s class of new doctors will leave medical school with something unexpected, said class member Adriel Barrios-Anderson. They’ll have gained the resilience and preparation that can come only from the experience of working under trying conditions, in chaotic and often perilous times.
“Something that's become really clear over the past couple of years is how uncertain the science of medicine can be, and how uncertain our futures can be, especially as we were thrust into this pandemic,” Barrios-Anderson said.
At the medical school’s Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 29, Barrios-Anderson will deliver a student address titled “Experts in Uncertainty.” He will share his thoughts on how being forged in the crucible of COVID-era training can shape this new generation of doctors.
“As we are about to embark on this next step in our careers, I think many of us are feeling a lot of uncertainty around that,” he said. “I hope to first acknowledge those feelings and then inspire members of our class to recognize that being trained in a very uncertain world and as part of a very uncertain health care framework is actually a strength that will help us navigate the future.”
An eight-year path toward two Brown degrees
Barrios-Anderson moved from Houston to Providence in 2013 to enroll in Brown’s Program in Liberal Medical Education, an innovative eight-year track through which students earn a bachelor’s degree and M.D. from the University. But his career path wasn’t always so well-defined — as a classically trained violinist, he seriously considered studying music.
In high school, Barrios-Anderson played the violin for patients in hospitals throughout the Texas Medical Center in Houston, and was introduced to the world of medicine. He found that he was intrigued by the idea of working in a clinical environment. As patients listened to his playing, he discovered a different kind of music in their personal stories. He started leaning toward a medical career.
“I wanted the opportunity to have an education that was expansive, with the goal of becoming more well-rounded as a doctor,” he said. “Being accepted early-decision to Brown’s Program in Liberal Medical Education felt like a dream come true. It allowed me to study music and explore interests outside of medicine as a part of my journey.”
As an undergraduate, Barrios-Anderson took courses in applied music, played violin in the orchestra and started a string quintet that performed in venues around Rhode Island.
The focus of his academic interest, though, was the sciences.
“Like many Brown students, I ended up finding a whole new area to study,” he said.
Barrios-Anderson decided to concentrate in neuroscience and science, technology and society. He participated in research projects in the labs of Barbara Stonestreet, a professor of pediatrics, and Nicole McLaughlin, an assistant professor (research) of psychiatry and human behavior. After earning his undergraduate degree in 2017, the transition to medical school was both a continuation of his education at Brown and yet a completely distinct experience, he said.
He continued to participate in neuroscience research and to take courses in the field, and felt enriched by the continuum: “My perspective on what I was studying at the undergraduate level really evolved once I started to get more specific medical knowledge and a better idea of what the clinical world looks like.” During medical school, Barrios-Anderson’s love of the neurosciences and tutelage from professors in the Brown department of neurosurgery, especially Dr. Deus Cielo, Dr. Adetokunbo Oyelese and Dr. Ziya Gokaslan, led him pursue a specialty in neurosurgery.