Interview of the month: Mauricio Castillo

Tell us something about your youth, what were your dreams and ambitions?

I am lucky to come from a privileged family and nearly everything I wanted was available.  I grew up in a neighborhood where many of the parents of my friends were physicians who I admired greatly not only as professionals but also as individuals and intellectuals.  They set up an early image of the type of person I wanted to be.

So, I always wanted to be a doctor and was the first one in my very large, extended family to do so.  It was not until my internship at the army hospital that I decided to become a radiologist and from that point on, this was not a dream or an ambition but an obsession.

Later as a radiology resident, the goal to become a professor and to dedicate myself to serving public health institutions crystalized in me.  As a young attending radiologist, my goals and ambitions changed and I developed a keen interest in publication which result in the position of Editor in Chief of AJNR and the publication of nearly 650 articles. My continued interest in service led to the presidency of ARRS and ASNR.


When you decided to move to the US after your degree from Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, was there a chance to move to Canada or somewhere else, or was the US your first and only choice?

After graduating, I knew several colleagues who went to train in Spain, Argentina, and Mexico. Although Spanish is my first language, I learned English when I was very young so coming to an anglophone country was a natural for me (plus, my father and all of my siblings had studied in the US or abroad).

As I mentioned above, during my internship I developed a relationship with 2 radiologists, US-trained and they encouraged me to come to the US as they believed it offered the best training. Since I wanted to become a good radiologist, I had no choice! I am lucky that my family supported me while I was able to find a training position.


Please tell us your feelings and experiences in these terrible days of the Covid 19 pandemic?

The changes resulting from big events such as Y2K and 9/11 have not been good for anyone and I am not sure that the changes resulting from the current pandemic will make our lives better or easier.  I hope that now we will understand that humanity works as a single unit that events are no longer isolated.  My wish is that COVID 19 will lead to more understanding and cooperation but I know that is unlikely to happen.

I have been amazed by the rapid way our health institutions adapted and how fast our ways of teaching and learning also have changed, probably permanently.

I live in a university town so life, without students, has been slow and terrible for our local economy. Over 1 year ago I started to work less with the idea of retiring soon and was having a great time during my time off, visiting friends and places all over the world, exploring what cities near to Chapel Hill have to offer, but now with everything closed, these activities will have to wait.  What is amazing, is that what is happening here in our small town is happening all over the world.  All of us are having the same shared experiences!


How will Covid 19 influence human relationships and our work, university, and training included?

I think that patient care has become more complex and that teaching our trainees is more difficult and not optimal.  The pandemic is forcing some changes in teaching that were needed but currently are still far from optimal.

We need to migrate our “virtual conferences” to “virtual classrooms.”  What I mean by this is that is we need to make the lectures available a priori to our residents/fellows so that they can study them as homework and then, instead of doing a traditional didactic activity the trainees need to be evaluated with unknown cases and also utilized our time together for intelligent discussions.  Migrating the traditional lectures online by themselves does not accomplish what they used to.


Which are the weak and the strong points of a country as the US?

Despite all the current political and economic issues, the US still has many opportunities not available anywhere else.  The US is not like Europe where if you do not pass an examination your dreams are over and you must find something else to do. In the US the number of opportunities a person has to achieve his/her goals is practically never-ending.  The main problem that I currently see in our profession in the US is the fragmented and for-profit health care system we have.

We must find a solution where health maintenance is a right, where universal access exists while keeping private physicians involved, we must find a way to contain costs while providing an attractive salary to doctors (not as little as in Europe, not as much as the US and other countries) so it will continue to an attractive profession to our brightest young people.  We must pursue the idea of academic and private/industry cooperations within a frame that respects moral and ethical issues.


Which are your hobbies?

I have always been a big reader and currently (probably because I have more time) I am reading up to 3-4 books per month in different languages. I have amassed a large music collection, currently over 5000 CDs, 550 LPs, and more than 60,000 song files.

I like all types of music but tend towards jazz and of course the pop music from the 1970s. Not only do I listen to jazz, I study it and take notes while listening.  I also love audiophile equipment (I have a very nice system) as well as watches (I have a nice collection).  My wife and I enjoy movies and maybe watch some 15 of them every month.  For the last 20 years, I have been learning French and try to do at least one activity in that language daily. We love to travel and have a home in Paris and have 3 wonderful and very accomplished children and now one granddaughter.  I am also lucky to have several friends in Chapel Hill and the US as well as many others in Europe and Asia.

These things tend to become more important as we age.


What do you suggest to a young doctor? How can he decide the best choice for him/her as a residency program?

Follow your dreams.  Medicine is a very demanding career and occupies most of your time.  Many of us nowadays are also married to physicians so medicine is present outside and inside your home at all times.

Chose a specialty you love and if you find you do not like it as much as you think you would, change! There is no greater pleasure than getting up every day and head out to do what you like.  I, like most radiologists, love the kind of work I do.


Europe and the US, friends or enemies, how will the future be?

Hah! One thing humans have in common is that we are terrible at predicting the future.  I guess our relationships as countries will always be hot and cold, love and hate depending on who our leaders are.  But I am talking about countries, when you look at us as radiologists and humans these differences are non-existing.  In my experience, we all get together along fine and respect each other, have the best interest of our patients in mind, and want to be as knowledgeable as possible.

Radiology is indeed: one world.


How will the teaching of the future be like? I guess we can forget meetings such as RSNA with 60,000 attendees, correct?

Yes, I think that huge meetings will be gone at least for the foreseeable future.  Although there will always be a need for in-person teaching, we have come to realize that a lot of it can be virtual.  The pandemic has lead to a more democratic availability of teaching materials.  There are so many free online courses now!  The ability to access these materials when you want is incredible.  Imagine, for example, a female (or male) radiologist who due to family and other responsibilities cannot travel to meetings, now they can access the same materials when and where they want!

The human race is very resilient and things will be OK or even better, not the same, never back to the “old normal” but we have to trust that the “new normal” will bring some good changes to us.

Thanks, Mauricio it has been a pleasure, and thanks for your friendship!