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A Journey to Orthopedics: José Acosta joins the COMET T-32 Program

José Acosta’s exposure to medicine as an adolescent led him to pursue a degree in molecular biology at the University of Puerto Rico. Immediately following his undergraduate education, José matriculated into the University of Puerto Rico’s School of Medicine where he is currently taking a research gap year between his 3rd and 4th years. Having expressed a desire to pursue orthopedics, José decided to join OrACORe to gain valuable research experience into low back pain. In this blog post, José discusses his motivation to pursue medicine and orthopedics, his research interests, his time at OrACORe, and his future aspirations.

The Road to Orthopedics

José was initially introduced to the field of medicine as a youngster by a medical emergency that required intervention. Dr. Marrero, who treated José, was his best friend’s father. From then on, José looked up to Dr. Marrero and wanted to be like him. During his undergraduate years, Dr. Marrero continued to act as a mentor for José.

His interest in orthopedics stems from his lifelong passion for sports, especially soccer. José is a fan of and follows the teams FC Barcelona and Manchester United. Another factor drawing José toward orthopaedics is it’s the interplay with engineering. Jose grew up watching the work of his grandfather, a structural engineer. He enjoyed watching his sketches and learning from him about physics and engineering. So, when he shadowed an orthopedic surgeon for the first time, he realized that planning surgeries is based on these same principles and become passionate about the field.

Finally, in high school, José spent multiple years shadowing a spine surgeon, which was highly influential given that he is now pursuing a career as a spine surgeon.

From Med School to OrACORe

José is currently in a research gap year between his 3rd and 4th years of medical school. When asked why he was interested in pursuing research in general, José said he “feels that students should be continually learning” and that research keeps him “engaged”. Orthopedic research, in particular, is advancing rapidly, and he wanted to learn more about it. For example, new procedures and techniques are developing, and new practices are being adopted that he wanted to stay on top of. As for coming to OrACORe, he says that he was keen to identify and become immersed in spine-related research projects that were different from what he was exposed to in medical school. He says that research provides “the education to become a better resident”.

At OrACORe, José is researching osteoarthritis of the spine – specifically osteoarthritis of the small joints in the lower back called the facet joints. He is currently evaluating features that define lumbar facet joint osteoarthritis and how those features appear on the MRIs of patients with lower back pain.

Since arriving at OrACORe in July, José has enjoyed the people the most – from working and sitting with the research assistants to the mentorship that Dr. Katz has provided. He says it is very “comforting and productive” to work here in an environment that is constantly growing and pursuing new ideas.

A picture of José with his family. Photo courtesy of José Acosta.

Following his year at OrACORe, José will be returning to San Juan to complete his 4th and final year of medical school. He is applying for several away rotations in orthopaedics and in the winter, he will prepare residency applications for orthopaedic programs in Puerto Rico and the U.S.

Advice for the Future

If José could offer one piece of advice to aspiring or current medical students, it would be to “stay engaged, pursue what you like and be open to what you like”. Also, he advises medical students to stay close to their families and loved ones as they will help you during the stressful times to keep a “healthy space”. Finally, he recommends that staying active and prioritizing yourself are paramount. Maintaining a calm and cool headspace will help to prolong energy and to remain dedicated to your studies or work.

When Not at Work

When he’s not in the OrACORe offices or in medical school, you can find José playing sports and working out. He also likes to watch movies and to spend time with his girlfriend. Finally, he likes to explore new places and restaurants when the chances arise.

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