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“My grandfather wasn’t a daily presence in my life, but I understand his commitment,” says Genevieve L. Pagalilauan, M.D. ’00, Res ’03. “He made tremendous self-sacrifices. He was part of the Bataan Death March during World War II. I don’t think you can grow up with stories like that and not think: what is my purpose here? What good can I do?”
Pagalilauan, a UW associate professor of medicine, has asked and answered these questions. By becoming a doctor, like her grandfather.
Babies and Emergency Rooms
When Pagalilauan decided to attend the UW School of Medicine, she was pretty sure of her career path. “I knew that I was interested in primary care and internal medicine, and there are few schools that are as competitive in those fields as ours,” she says.
These interests were confirmed during her medical-student rotations in Washington: one in Anacortes, the other at Madigan Army Medical Center, part of the School’s regional WWAMI training program.
“I delivered several babies. I did home visits with elderly people in the community. I provided some healthcare on a Native reservation. I toured a facility for incarcerated youth on one of the islands. I volunteered for extra shifts in the emergency room,” says Pagalilauan.
“It’s the primary-care doctor in me that loved the continuity of it — how people in the community took care of one another,” she says.
Walking the Path
As an internal medicine doctor, Pagalilauan cares for her patients over the course of their adult lives. This brings a special kind of intimacy to her professional life; she sees some of her patients more than she sees her extended family. And, on several occasions, a patient’s family has asked her to deliver a eulogy.
“Those were some of the most touching moments in my career,” says Pagalilauan. “You are with patients during some of the most powerful moments of their lives, and you get to walk that path with them.”
But there’s another part of Pagalilauan’s professional life that means as much to her as patient care, and that’s teaching and mentoring medical students.
She’s so dedicated to educating the next generation that Pagalilauan’s peers at UW Medical Center recently presented her with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Health Sciences Community Service Award. The award was given, in part, to recognize her work with service learning programs — programs where students organize and provide medical services in underserved communities.
Like good teachers everywhere, Pagalilauan is quick to deflect attention toward her students’ work. She’s particularly proud of one of their newest service learning projects. “The fact that our Montana students started our first free mental health clinic — how cool is that?” says Pagalilauan.
“When you get to work with students who are deeply committed to doing this kind of grassroots work to help people,” she says, “it’s like an antidote to all that ails you.”
Honoring the Past
Pagalilauan was 3 when her immediate family moved to the United States. As a result, she didn’t really know her grandfather all that well. Still, his life served as an inspiration for her own, and she had the opportunity to visit him for three weeks when she was 19.
“Being able to watch my grandfather practice…and see the significant resource disparities was quite dramatic,” says Pagalilauan. “I began to understand why he was so deeply committed.”