July 22, 2020—YouTube isn’t just a place to discover new music or obtain fix-it instructions, as Mario Blondin Fernandez discovered as a high school student. The site can seed an interest that blossoms into a lifelong passion.
After breaking a bone at the tip of his finger playing high school football, Blondin Fernandez quelled his anxiety by watching a YouTube video of the procedure he would soon undergo.
“I was fascinated by watching this video,” Blondin Fernandez recalls. “That created a spark in me, but at that time, I didn’t have the trust or confidence in myself to believe I could do something like surgery.”
That sense of self-determination and conviction arrived two years later, as another life-altering event occurred during Blondin Fernandez’s first year as an undergraduate student at Miami Dade College. When a member of his family found their health steadily declining and sought surgical treatment, Blondin Fernandez took note of the care they received from their physicians. One thing stood out: compassion. Blondin Fernandez swiftly changed his major from engineering to biology and set out on a pre-medicine track.
“My family member was experiencing many layers of fear. Their doctors were able to listen and find out what was really happening, and they made a 100% recovery. It was a miracle, and I saw the power of medicine,” Blondin Fernandez says.
As a second-year medical student at the UF College of Medicine, Blondin Fernandez is now pursuing interests in both orthopaedics and plastic surgery, with help from the George Wirtanen Scholarship. Established as a memorial tribute in 2005, the fund honors George Wirtanen, M.D ’60, who retired as a professor emeritus from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine after 30 years with the radiology-oncology department.
“I’m really thankful for the individuals who make donations to help alleviate the financial burden of medical school,” Blondin Fernandez says. “It makes me really happy and makes me want to give to someone else in the future.”
Blondin Fernandez, whose family moved from Cuba to Miami when he was 15, serves as treasurer for the UF chapter of the Latino Medical Student Association. Though social distancing measures as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic mean his organization cannot currently gather, the lessons in cultural competency that they often discussed at lunchtime meetings remain top of mind.
The intersection of diversity and medicine has been a topic near and dear to Blondin Fernandez’s heart since the nearly three years he spent volunteering at the UHI CommunityCare Clinic in the Opa-locka area of Miami. Here he found a mentor in pediatrician Katherine Semidey, M.D. ’13, who treated patients hailing from South America to Africa to the Middle East.
“America is very diverse. We have people here from everywhere in the world. Even within the Hispanic community in the U.S., there is great diversity in language and culture depending on where you’re from. Knowing the basics of other cultures will foster the relationships you can have with patients as a care provider. The patients will know you’re trying your best,” he says.
Blondin Fernandez’s inspiration to pursue specialties like orthopaedics and plastic surgery builds on his fascination with creating and repairing things with his own hands. As a young man, he would spend afternoons taking apart old game consoles to learn the mechanisms contained within before rebuilding them. When he begins clinical rotations in his third year of training, he’ll apply that same curiosity — along with two steady hands — to patient care. Blondin Fernandez understands, however, that along with dexterity, medicine requires great heart and compassion.
“Regardless of the specialty I enter into, I will be working with people. As a physician, I want to take the time to get to know my patients, see who they are, understand them, see through their layers and find the person at their core, just like the physicians who helped my family member,” he says. “It’s about treating patients as people, not just a disease.”