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In her hometown of Long Beach, California, Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) alum Eneti Tagaloa, MD, ’21, didn’t know many others of Pacific Islander descent—except her extended family transplanted from the island of Samoa. She met even fewer during her clinical rotations in medical school. According to a study in JAMA Network, Pacific Islanders experience disproportionate health disparities but are the least represented racial group in medical professions. Hoping to increase the number of physicians like her in the field, Tagaloa’s goals are to share knowledge with medical school students and patients and encourage other Pacific Islanders to pursue medical school.

An aspiring physician focused on patient care

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Dreaming of a better life, her family emigrated from Samoa to California. An exceptional student, Tagaloa made the Dean’s List in high school, moved on to a degree in Exercise Science from Seattle Pacific University, and pinned her hopes on medical school.

Already deeply interested in the quality of patient care, she gained clinical experience by shadowing physicians as a Clinical Care Extender at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Long Beach and served as an in-home caregiver before entering med school at RUSM. “Caregiving was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. I could observe the various stages of treatment. I felt joy for those that recovered, and sorrow for those that passed away. Managing all the emotions was eye-opening. It wasn’t easy, but the rewards were exponential.” These early clinical experiences helped Tagaloa feel ready to tackle med school.

Resilience, resources, and rewards

While at RUSM, Tagaloa received coaching in time management and study planning, as well as tutoring from her peers at the Academy for Teaching and Learning (ATL). To brush up on her clinical skills, Tagaloa joined the Clinical Skills student organization on the RUSM campus, which teaches students essential skills before rotations, such as EKG, ultrasound, and suturing. “I also took advantage of the support offered by the RUSM Wellness and Counseling Center. The techniques I learned helped when I felt stressed. I was able to study more effectively with the tools provided by RUSM.”

Championing women’s health

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It was during her clinicals at Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, California that she realized her strong interest in women’s health and the highly competitive specialty of OB/GYN. “I want women to feel like their issues are heard and to understand impacts on their health so they can make their own decisions.” When she matched for residency at Kern—her first choice—it felt like her career dreams were coming true.

Now preparing to be a resident at Kern in July 2022, she’s looking forward to putting her medical education to work to help improve women’s reproductive health. “Women count on you to listen and have solutions when they’re vulnerable. I feel like it’s up to me to champion patients and their health needs.”

Inspiring other students

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Tagaloa wants to continue to provide information and guidance for women and medical students, especially those of Pacific Islander heritage. Through Instagram (@samoanmd), she hopes to be a resource to other medical students navigating the healthcare environment to understand medical conditions, prepare for the rigors of medical school and clinicals, and learn to provide expert patient care. Most of all, she hopes to encourage other women of Pacific Islander background to realize they are needed in healthcare, especially as physicians.

Equally as important to Tagaloa are efforts to improve health care for the community on the island of Samoa. “Samoans deal with huge health disadvantages. Providing health education is key. Someday, I hope to give back to the people of Samoa and practice on the island.”

“Sometimes I feel a bit lonely as a woman of Samoan descent in healthcare,” says Tagaloa. “But I feel proud to represent my heritage and hope my presence in the field encourages others of Pacific Islander heritage—especially women—to explore careers in medicine.”

In 2020, 91% of RUSM students passed the initial step of the United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®) on the first attempt. And in 2021-2022, results show yet another strong year for RUSM with a 96% first-time residency attainment rate* thus far. Located on the island of Barbados and with a network of more than 15,000 alumni, RUSM is one of the largest providers of doctors for the U.S. healthcare system. RUSM graduates practice in all 50 states and in Puerto Rico.

*First time residency attainment rate is the percent of students attaining a 2022-23 residency position out of all graduates or expected graduates in 2021-22 who were active applicants in the 2022 NRMP match or who attained a residency position outside the NRMP match.