Member of the Month:
Melissa Martin Jacaman, MD
Laredo native returns to her hometown to help build family medicine residency program
By Kate Alfano
Born and raised in the border town of Laredo, Melissa Jacaman, MD, returned to her hometown after training at Christus Santa Rosa in San Antonio to help build a family medicine residency program, Laredo Medical Center — University of Incarnate Word, the first graduate medical education program in the city’s history. She hopes the program will increase access to care for the area’s patients, give residents top-notch training, and support the permanent physician workforce.
Who or what inspired you to become a physician?
My inspiration to become a physician is really a culmination of several aspects of my life. When I was about 10 years old, an aunt that I was very close to passed away after several years of battling cancer. While I was too young to comprehend all that her medical care entailed, I most vividly remember how my aunt praised her care team for being compassionate and empathetic. I realized that I wanted to model a career where I could connect with people on a humanistic level and help guide them through difficult, but also happy, times in their lives. I have also always enjoyed math, science and problem solving. Being a physician allows me to combine my inquisitive personality with my desire to connect with others and practice a career I truly love.
Can you briefly describe your career path?
Out of high school, I was accepted into the Partnership for Primary Care program of Texas A&M College of Medicine. Through this program, which focuses on mentoring students interested in primary care fields, I completed my undergraduate education at Texas A&M International University and then received my medical degree from Texas A&M COM. I then went on to complete residency at Christus Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency in San Antonio. There I served as chief resident, which is where I discovered my love for medical education. I was fortunate enough to begin my career as a faculty member at Christus before moving back to my hometown of Laredo to serve as the Associate Program Director of a new residency program. I would not have had the foundation needed to pursue this amazing endeavor without the support and mentorship I received from the faculty who trained me.
What are you currently working on?
We are currently wrapping up the inaugural year of the Laredo Medical Center — University of Incarnate Word Family Medicine Residency. Our program, along with our sister internal medicine program, marks the very first time that the community of Laredo has ever had any graduate medical education programs. This venture is the result of several years of hard work, planning and collaboration between several community entities, and I am so blessed to be a part of the journey. We are continuously working on ways to improve and grow our program. This has been an amazing year of growth for me both personally and professionally.
What unique challenges are represented in your patient community?
The city of Laredo suffers from one of the highest rates of medically uninsured people in the country. This problem is compounded by the fact that we are a border city and serve as a harbor for a large number of immigrants from Central and South America. Unfortunately, the patients we serve often present to us late in the stages of disease due to their lack of resources. Gateway Community Health Center is a Federally Qualified Health Center in Laredo and serves as one of the only options for health care for many. By embedding the continuity clinic for our residency program within Gateway, we hope to provide access to many more patients along with providing a great training experience for our residents. Our hope is then that some of our residents will choose to stay and practice in our community after graduation.
What brings you joy in your work?
I find my utmost joy in teaching residents and watching their growth throughout their training. I feel that there is no greater service that I can provide to the field of medicine than to be a part of training compassionate, diligent and competent physicians that love what they do.
Have you experienced challenges as a woman in medicine? How do you hope to affect change in your students?
One challenge that I have encountered so far in my career that I initially did not expect is the continued misconception about women in the health care field. Although the percentage of women physicians continues to climb and women have actually surpassed men in the 35 and younger age group, the title of “physician” is still largely viewed as predominately male. I have had countless times where patients and other employees have mistaken me for a nurse, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant solely due to my gender. As we continue to evolve the culture of medicine, I hope to help train physicians that strive to be leaders in their communities and workplaces and are respected as such, regardless of gender or cultural background.
TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month or if you’d like to tell your own story, nominate yourself or your colleague by contacting TAFP by email at email@example.com or by phone at (512) 329-8666. View past Members of the Month here.