Philadelphia Medicine Fall 2020 - 23
p h i l a m e d s o c .o rg
Thanks to the sponsorship of her mentors and the ACA, Ortiz-Torrent was accepted to a summer research job through the
National Scientific Association at Mississippi State University, under
the guidance and mentorship of Dr. William Henry.
Despite numerous opportunities to work as a board-certified
chemist, Ortiz-Torrent's professional focus shifted when she was
accepted to Puerto Rico's Ponce School of Medicine. It was during
her third-year medical rotation in psychiatry that Ortiz-Torrent
found her career path in psychiatric medicine. Because there was
only one psychiatry residency program in Puerto Rico, Ortiz-Torrent
decided to apply to mainland U.S. programs and matched with
Temple University Health System in Philadelphia.
Moving to Pennsylvania was exciting for Ortiz-Torrent, but also
represented a significant challenge. She worked hard improving her
English language skills, learning a new culture and adapting to life
without her family support system. There were long hours of work
and a stressful residency life. Ortiz-Torrent emphatically recalls: "I
don't miss the 36-hour shifts."
The population was tough and angry, which was very different
from her hometown of Cayey, Puerto Rico, where people always greet
one another courteously. Ortiz-Torrent was mocked because of her
accent and told on countless occasions to "go back to her country."
During these challenging times, Ortiz-Torrent remembers her
car being impounded and how she almost lost her residency position
because of an initial struggle to pass her United States Medical
Licensing Examination Step 3 Board exams.
Ortiz-Torrent also experienced many financial challenges during
her residency training, such as being unable to renew her lease and
having to move in with a friend. It was amid these trials, however,
that her mentors stepped up and helped her navigate each problem.
Ortiz-Torrent's mentors listened to her, empowered her and provided
the sustaining support she needed to continue pursuing her career
When Ortiz-Torrent graduated from her residency program,
she began working as an attending immediately. She faced many
difficulties, as she would need to prove herself as a young Latina,
double-board certified instructor, working as a psychiatry consultant
to a full-rank professor.
"The importance of prioritizing my health care became
obvious when I developed sudden
unilateral hearing loss," she said.
Thanks to the support of her
employer, allowing her a degree
of flexibility, and faithful friends
who were always there for her,
Ortiz-Torrent has survived the
Many years have passed, and
Ortiz-Torrent looks back on all
her accomplishments with a sense
of humility and gratitude to the
people who helped her become
the person she is today.
Above all these titles, roles
and accolades, Ortiz-Torrent
defines herself as a mentor. She
believes that mentors are people
that guide and teach professional
and personal skills, exemplifying how to balance work with life and
modeling how to take care of ourselves. Ortiz-Torrent said: "I am
thankful to my mentors. A toast to them."
Up to the Challenge
By Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan knew
from an early age that she would pursue a career in medicine. Her
first mentor was Dr. Humberto Vazquez, her very own pediatrician.
Vazquez quickly recognized her aptitude in science and provided
her with constructive advice and consistent support during her
high school years in Puerto Rico. Vazquez also offered invaluable
guidance when the time came to select a college with a strong premed program. He upheld her in her choice to attend a college in
the mainland U.S. At the age of 17, Vidal-Phelan left her home in
Puerto Rico and began her physician journey as a pre-med student
in Boston, Mass.
continued on next page
Fortunately, Ortiz-Torrent also had mentors at work. Around this
time, she realized the importance of networking within the Latino
community to gain experience as a leader. Raul Serrano, a recognized
community leader in Philadelphia, was a mentor who introduced
Ortiz-Torrent to several community engagements and opportunities.
Returning to her Latino roots nurtured Ortiz-Torrent's soul with
experiences that reminded her of the numerous philanthropic efforts
undertaken by her parents.
As Ortiz-Torrent's parents aged in Cayey, she committed to taking
care of them. Since Ortiz-Torrent couldn't obtain commensurate
employment by returning to Puerto Rico, her parents chose to move
to Delaware County to live with her. Ortiz-Torrent confesses that
work-life balance has been a challenge.
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan with radio show host Hector Valdez at
"Cafe con Leche" on WLCH Radio Centro.
Fall 2020 : Philadelphia Medicine 23
Philadelphia Medicine Fall 2020
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