Roberto Swazo is from Hato Rey, Puerto Rico and became interested in science when he witnesses his my mother go through a battle with breast cancer. He immediately became entranced with the art of healing. Seeing the compassionate care that her oncologist provided, he recognized that medicine is not only about treatment, but also about the personal connection created between patient and provider.
Q&A With Roberto
What has your path been like to where you are now?
Though I had an interest in medicine since I was quite young, I didn’t always have the same commitment and drive for medicine as I do now. During high school and college, I was actually an amateur boxer and spent more time training that I probably should have, but I learned so many important lessons from boxing that I practice on a day to day basis now. The importance of perseverance and work ethic are probably the two key lessons that I took away from my time in the ring. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to go to Ross University School of Medicine, where I took full advantage of that opportunity and made the best of it. Through incredible faculty and mentors, I was fortunate enough to be chosen as the Chief Resident at University of Arizona COM at South Campus after completing my residency there, in which I learned about my passion for academia, teaching, and was able to put into practice my commitment to the underserved population. During residency, I fell in love with critical care, in which I found myself with an opportunity to be closer to family in the Midwest by pursuing a fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Indiana University, where I am currently wrapping up my first year of fellowship!
What do you love most about what you are doing now?
While I never would have imagined that I would’ve found myself in the middle of a pandemic during my first year of fellowship, I also felt proud and ready for the challenge, seeing as how Covid-19 essentially became every pulmonary and critical care physician’s “D Day”. This is what we’ve spent so many years training for. I’m proud to be serving on the front lines of this pandemic and love the fact that I have the potential to make an impact on so many peoples’ lives during times when they’ve hit the metaphorical “rock bottom” when it comes to their severity of illness.
What are some of your outside interests?
I still have a passion for boxing and love to watch events during my free time. I’ve also become a certified USA Boxing ringside physician, in which I volunteer my time during Silver and Golden Glove events in the local Indiana amateur boxing scene. This opportunity allowed me to intertwine two passions: medicine and boxing!
Did you have a mentor that contributed to your growth? Who was that mentor and what lessons did you learn from them? How did you find that person?
I’ve had countless mentors throughout my young medical career, but there were two that were particularly impactful: Dr. Bujji Ainapurapu and Dr. Victoria Murrain. Dr. Ainapurapu was serving as the Associate Program Director at University of Arizona COM at South Campus when I first met him. He was actually one of the faculty that interviewed me for residency candidacy! We established a close, personal relationship and I learned countless lessons from him. He was the one that fostered my academic interest and showed me what a true academic physician looks like. I owe Dr. Ainapurapu everything since he took a chance on me and helped shape the physician that I am today. Dr. Murrain is the second half of the equation. I was introduced to her by Dr. Ainapurapu and upon becoming involved in administrative committees. She helped cultivate my passion for community outreach and helped provide outlets in order to make that dream a reality. She truly is the best example of a community leader and her passion for inclusion and diversity is contagious. I can’t put into words how fortunate I feel to have worked with these two incredible physicians.
What advice would you give to students?
The best advice that I can give to students is the following: there will be many naysayers throughout your academic career but at the end of the day, your ability to persevere will determine your level of success. Find those around you that support your goals and be relentless in the pursuit of your dreams!