When One Door Closes

Stanford Surgery Resident Dr. Wilson Alobuia is a paradigm for the power of positive thinking

January 22, 2019

“When I was initially applying for residency, I wasn’t even thinking about Stanford. I didn’t feel competitive,” said Dr. Wilson Alobuia. “But then my mentor at [the University of] Arkansas told me about Kountz.”

Established to encourage minority student interest in an academic surgical career, the Samuel L. Kountz Diversity Fellowship is an all-expenses paid sub-internship with Stanford’s Division of General Surgery.

“I felt like there was nothing to lose, so I applied,” said Alobuia. “…and I didn’t get it.”

Where others might have seen heartbreak and rejection, Alobuia saw a learning experience and emailed Residency Program Manager Anita Hagan to learn how he could have improved his application.

“An hour or two later, [Anita] asked me to call her. She told me about this other program, SCORE, and that—if I was interested—she would forward my application on to them,” said Alobuia. “I told her ‘I don’t know what this program is, but yes!’”

Much like Kountz, the Stanford Clinical Opportunity for Residency Experience (SCORE) is designed to give individuals who are underrepresented in medicine the opportunity to experience Stanford. SCORE Program Manager Rita Balain operates the program along with Mijiza Maláne Sanchez, an associate dean in the Office of Medical Student Affairs.

“We want to create a community of caregivers that is representative of the patients we’re caring for,” said Sanchez. “But doing a sub-I is incredibly costly. So, we fly the students out, give them a place to stay and ask the departments to do their interviews while they’re here so they don’t have to fly back.”

In its first year, the program was only able to sponsor three students, and Alobuia was one of them.

“Other programs you show up, and you’re on your own. At Stanford, they gave me a free ticket to see a football game and hosted dinners every week, so I got to meet faculty members and residents,” said Alobuia. “It’s unique in the sense that you feel integrated into the Stanford community. You are here to work, but you also get family.”

Now in its third year, SCORE has grown to include 12 Stanford Medicine departments, with the Department of Surgery funding two SCORE students in addition to one Kountz fellow.

“You know what an amazing investment this is when you see the fabric of this place start changing and diversifying,” said Sanchez.

Enamored with the farm after his SCORE experience, Alobuia ranked Stanford’s General Surgery Residency Program first and was awarded one of six preliminary spots.

“I decided Stanford was the place I wanted to be even if it was only for one year,” said Alobuia. “Work hard. Learn. Enjoy the experience. Somehow, it will work out.”

And it did, better than he could have ever hoped. Partway through his intern year, Alobuia received an email from Program Director Dr. Marc Melcher asking for a meeting.

“I was convinced that I was in trouble,” said Alobuia. “But when I showed up, he told me [the faculty] thought I was doing a great job and wanted to offer me a permanent spot here.”

Today, Alobuia is looking forward to spending his professional development years working in General Surgery Chief Dr. Electron Kebebew’s lab researching neuroendocrine tumors. He’s also a mentor to the new intern class, including Dr. Jason Powell, a 2017 SCORE alumnus.

“I always tell people, ‘if you don’t get in, it’s not because you’re not good enough,’” said Alobuia, “…it’s because there is something else for you out there. Go get it.’”

Stanford Surgery is currently accepting applications for the Kountz. The Kountz Fellowship application deadline is April 10. SCORE applications are rolling depending on quarter. Learn more.