Diego R. Dasilva, MD

Diego, born in Brazil, was the first in his family to complete college and started off as an average student. Now he's a dermatology resident who wants premeds to know you don't need to come from an educated or affluent family to succeed in the medical field.
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Undergraduate: University of Miami, 2014
Major: Art History, minors in chemistry and biology

Medical school: Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania, 2018
Residency: University of Pennsylvania Health System
Specialty: Dermatology

What led to your interest in medicine?

My grandmother was a traveling nurse in the amazon jungle in Brazil and had several amazing stories about her experience helping Native Americans and integrating western medicine with tribal practices/traditions.

What experiences did you have that confirmed medicine was the right career for you?

Shadowing several specialties in several settings (inpatient/outpatient) were the most important experiences I had in college and re-ignited my passion for medicine and desire to be a practicing clinician. You have to see how physicians go about their daily routine to truly know if you would enjoy the career.

Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?

There were several teachers and professors over the years that saw the potential in me and encouraged my career in medicine. Almost as important were doubters, who only motivated me further. This includes pre-health counselors who discouraged me from applying to top medical schools saying, “Kids from Miami don’t go to schools like those.” If you’ve ever faced discouragement along those lines, regardless of your background, use it as fuel to prove them wrong.

What is your top MCAT tip for applicants preparing to take the exam?

While the test is extremely difficult and far from simple, my tip is a simple one: repetition and hours. These are what truly matter. I know it’s obvious but there are no short cuts to get you the score you want. You must put in the time (for some of us it may be a few weeks and for others it may be many months). You have to know yourself and what has worked for you over the years. And repetition is key; rather than go through 10 different resources one time go through a few resources as many times as possible. These are simple but failsafe keys to success on exams like the MCAT and the USMLE.

Did you have to change any of your study habits?

Medical school is entirely different from undergrad for most people and the age-old adage that it is like drinking from a fire hydrant is very accurate. Because of this, I shifted my habits from intense studying to the few days before an exam to balanced daily studying regardless of how far away the exam was. My goal for each week was to have gone through each lecture twice (once in class and once on my own). Then on the days leading up to an exam I would go through each lecture a 3rd time to ensure maximal retention.

What makes your story unique?

I was born in Brazil to a lower-middle class family and am the third of three siblings. Not only is no one in my extended family a physician, no one had even completed college. I was an average public school student most of my life with primarily “B” and “C” grades. I enjoyed hanging out with friends, playing sports, and video games and never even imagined that someone like me could have a prestigious career. However, late in high school as I saw most of my peers lack motivation or passion for a future vocation, I found purpose in the hopes of helping people through medicine and creating financial security for me and my family. I began focusing on academics and have never looked back. Having finally reached the goal of matching to my dream residency, I can say it was all worth it and I hope to be an inspiration to anyone who comes from a similar background and does not believe in themselves. I am an example that you don’t need to come from an educated or affluent family to succeed in the medical field. As cliché as it sounds, hard work, determination and sacrifice are the most important factors leading to success.

Why did you choose your specialty?

Dermatology is a field with a breathtaking mix of diagnostic and procedural medicine and I quickly fell in love with it. There are such an incredible variety of diseases, intersecting with almost every other specialty in medicine. Dermatology encompasses so much more than the well-known skin cancer and acne, and the breadth and complexity of skin disease is truly impressive. The cutaneous manifestations of infectious, inflammatory, neoplastic, hereditary, and autoimmune conditions make it an ideal career for those who are passionate about various aspects of medicine. The potential for a team-based approach to patient care and ability to encounter diagnostic puzzles in addition to routine cases is what excites me most about the field. Being able to use both medical and surgical modalities of treatment also allows me to not have to focus solely on one aspect of medicine. Unfortunately, dermatology is also currently the second least diverse field in all of medicine when it comes to underrepresented minorities. So I believe it is of utmost importance to increase representation in the field so that we can better care for patients of color with skin disease.

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