Through their experiences with Match Day, physicians should recall firsthand the significance an email carries when it contains the information about where a medical student will begin their next chapter of professional training. Before he ever envisioned celebrating Match Day 2023, though, Javier Silfa-Cifuentes, recalled an acceptance email from Ross University School of Medicine (Ross Med) as the first message that became life’s turning point.
Silfa-Cifuentes always wanted to be a physician, which he credits to several familial influences throughout his lifetime. He grew up in Orlando, Florida, but spent summers in his father’s native Dominican Republic where his grandparents still lived. His grandfather was a dentist, and the work he did to fix smiles and improve people’s lives stuck with Silfa-Cifuentes from a young age. “Though dentistry wasn’t for me, the same principle of wanting to help others and live healthier, more fulfilling lives inspired me,” he shared.
Seeking his own path to give back to others through the medical field, Silfa-Cifuentes began his academic training as an undergraduate at Valencia College in Orlando before transferring to the University of Florida in Gainesville, two hours north of his family home in Orlando. A decade later, Match Day now brings Silfa-Cifuentes back to Gainesville, where he matched into his top residency choice – The University of Central Florida Family Medicine Residency Program at HCA Florida North Florida Hospital. He is one of 91 RUSM graduates heading to the state of Florida for residency this summer.
“The last week and 72 hours are hard to even describe,” said Silfa-Cifuentes. “I was afraid to open the first email to learn whether I had actually matched or not. Four years of hard work led to that moment, but I opened it and the best news of my life was right there before me. To go back to the town that was home for undergrad, two hours away from my family’s home, just close enough to where my friends and family can visit me anytime just feels amazing. I'm just so incredibly happy that this is how my life has turned out.”
A Family Affair
Looking back on his journey, Silfa-Cifuentes pursuing a career in family medicine and starting that career journey at Ross Med were always two diverging paths. He would come to be introduced to Ross Med by his cousin, Jose Guzman, MD ‘10, who also practices family medicine at St. Luke’s Family Practice in Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania. Silfa-Cifuentes’ primary care physician, a role model and person he loves as if he were family, had a daughter, Cristina Leiva, MD ‘17, who was graduating from Ross Med and starting her residency in pediatrics at the time Silfa-Cifuentes was applying to medical school. His mom also has a connection, having earned her degree from DeVry University, a former Adtalem Global Education institution. “For me, it’s always been a family affair. When Ross Med runs in the family, it becomes a natural fit.”
Much deeper than his familial connections to Ross Med is the connection he first felt to his ancestral home in the Dominican Republic and the inspiration that was sparked there to pursue a career in medicine. The summer trips he took to visit his grandparents were some of the first foundations to instilling a need to give back to others. Alongside the fond memories living there, he just as easily recalls driving through neighborhoods and seeing children as young as him working on the street to make extra money for their family.
“Those images stuck with me and, for years, led me to ask myself how can I help? Even though that was in the Dominican Republic, we have families here that struggle to make ends meet. So how can I give back to them? How can I improve their quality of life?”
It’s OK to be Imperfect
Silfa-Cifuentes started to turn his dream into reality during his first stint in Gainesville. As an undergrad, he studied microbiology but a career path toward medicine never materialized. He moved back to Boca Raton and started working as a valet at the local country club. Still, the connections to Ross Med and dream to help families remained. He used the money he made valeting cars to pay for his Ross Med application, and the life-changing acceptance email arrived in his inbox shortly after.
“I was just trying to figure out my next steps, and I get this email that someone sees potential in me, and I have the opportunity to finally pursue my dream. That was the turning point in my life. Now I have the access and opportunities to leave an impact on this world. How quickly life changes, and it all began with an email from Ross Med.”
Now just a couple of months away from Commencement and starting residency, Silfa-Cifuentes finds himself reflecting on what he learned in and out of the classroom in preparation for the next chapter. One lesson that stands out above the rest is that one setback does not mean the end of one’s journey. Whether it be a grade that was not as high, a rotation that could have gone better, or any bump in the road, Silfa-Cifuentes has come to believe in his own imperfection.
“I've had some setbacks throughout my time in medical school and used to conclude that a setback holds me back. Now that I am where I am, I've realized that I’m never at the end of the road and it’s OK to be imperfect. I'm not going to know all the answers in residency. I'm going to need a helping hand along the way. But with a positive mindset, it's all going to work out.”
To get started on your own path to Match Day, learn about how you can be hands-on from the start at Ross Med here.