Meet the Class of 2023: Celina Marie Lopes Caetano, UConn School of Medicine Commencement Student Speaker

UConn Health's Commencement for the Class of 2023 is May 8.

Medical student portrait in white coat

Celina Caetano is the UConn School of Medicine's Class of 2023 commencement speaker. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

Meet Celina Marie Lopes Caetano, 26, of Waterbury. She attended UConn Waterbury as an undergraduate and will soon receive her medical degree on May 8 from UConn’s medical school. Caetano is headed to Yale-New Haven Hospital where she matched to an internal medicine residency training program. She has been prestigiously selected by her peers to be the School of Medicine’s student speaker at Commencement.

Q: Why did you choose UConn and what drew you to medical school?
A: I really respected how UConn fosters a community of ingenuity and knowledge in an unrestricted way. You could be a student always asking, “Why?” or “How come?” to a concept, and someone would be willing to investigate it with you. It generates an elite group of physicians that are both knowledgeable and motivated to always give back to the community without question. And who wouldn’t be drawn to the promise of delicious ice cream, the cutest mascot Jonathan, and national champion sports???

Q: Did you have a favorite professor, class, or part of the curriculum?
A: I loved the Simulation (Sim) Center at UConn Health! It is a room at the medical school where there are the most realistic human mannequins you will ever see (although it is very creepy at first and there is certainly a comfort-curve that one needs to overcome) and the robots can simulate any health situation. You name it…from heart attacks, to live births, to IJ placements! What I loved the most about it was it took the most difficult and most stressful situations physicians are thrown in and allows students to work through the simulation in a safe environment. I learned so much about health care and myself during these sessions, and felt prepared when I engaged similar situations in real-life. As well, the Sim Center is run by some of the best people you will ever meet in the hospital!

Q: What activities were you involved in as a student?
A: I was involved in the Disabilities Interest Group; Urban Service Track/AHEC Scholars; Internal Medicine Scholars; First-Generation Medical/Dental Group; and Gold Humanism Honor Society.

Q: What’s one thing that surprised you about UConn?
A: I realize how cliché it may sound, but honestly, I was most surprised by the quality of people the university attracts. My classmates are some of the most humble, kind, dedicated, and hardworking people you could meet. The physicians and scientists who instructed us are a wealth of knowledge and have ingrained compassion for patient care. Nurses treat all patients with kindness and respect, and are willing to answer the 20 million questions this medical student had. The staff at UConn greet you with a contagious smile every single day.

Q: Any advice for incoming students or those wishing to apply to medical school?
A: Medical school is tough, and imposter syndrome is a reality you may experience from time to time. Realize that you are here because someone already believes in YOU. Stay humble. Remove your pride. Work hard. Live a full life of all the things you love to do. Welcome to the most humbling, rewarding career imaginable. Patients and families will trust you with aspects of their lives that only few are given a glimpse of. Embrace that! Don’t be afraid of this, but make it your motivation to want to learn all you can. UConn School of Medicine will challenge you and prepare you for this. However, remember that with great power comes great responsibility. Therefore, never stop learning (you will learn from patients as much as you teach them). Define what is valuable to you (my motto is “the best physicians are the best humans first”). And most of all, learn to live a full life containing everything that you love.

Q: What’s one thing everyone should do during their time at UConn?
A: Explore Connecticut! We are more than just “2 hours from Boston and 2 hours from NYC.” Go out and see a UConn basketball game, explore the nature, and eat some of the best apples the country has to offer!

Q: What will always make you think of UConn?
A: When I see a flock of geese blocking traffic because they are crossing the street precisely on the crosswalk (if you have been to UConn Health…you understand).

Q: What medical specialty are you entering and why?
A: Internal Medicine. As a self-proclaimed “professional nerd,” I want to help people and learn from everyone around me. During my rotations, I found that internal medicine physicians embody a summation of passion for learning and application of medicine with compassion for holistic patient care. They want to know BOTH the disease and the patient by name. They want to learn from experts and from the person they are treating in front of them. Most importantly, they are humans first and physicians second.

Q: Who inspired you most to enter medicine?
A: I had a professor in my first year of undergrad, Dr. Susan Berlin-Preston, who transformed my life. She was my general biology laboratory professor at the UConn Waterbury Campus. My first day of lab she stayed probably 1-2 hours after class ended to answer a book of nerdy questions I had about the lab topic. Every subsequent week, she would do the same. She inspired me to never stop asking questions and helped me establish connections in the clinical realm. She helped me see that to love medicine meant to love people and love science. Most of all, she did not turn me away because I lacked experience, but embraced me and said, “I see something in you kid.” Thank you Dr. Berlin! And I would not be where I am today if it was not for the guidance of Dr. Carl Malchoff. In a similar fashion, who took a kid without any research background and opened up opportunities that I never knew existed. He gave me the example of a physician (in terms of knowledgebase, curiosity, and bed-side manner) that I aspire to me. Thank you Dr. Malchoff!”

Q: What does UConn School of Medicine mean to you?
A: UConn School of Medicine means home. It is the place where I grew (both in knowledge and maybe half an inch or two), where I developed foreseeable lifelong friendships, and was shown the incredible breadth that medicine has to offer.

Q: How has attending medical school at UConn prepared you to be a physician?
A: The world ahead is unpredictable, but UConn responds. I feel my training here gave me the knowledge and skills to approach a variety of health-related situations with confidence and the understanding. This was highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the physicians running the hospital and serving on the state informant panels were teaching us about infectious disease management the same day they were debriefing the governor or the entire state on the local news. That is dedication to training the future generations.

Q: What’s it like to be part of UConn, the largest producer of physicians for Connecticut, and the significant impact its public service has on the state’s health, workforce, and its people?
A: Inspiring. You know you are in a special place when employees bring their own families to receive treatment here. That’s trust in the process, the system, and the people. I find that the impact UConn has on public service is an expectation for me going forward to continue to serve all, and take the factors which society has deemed grounds for ostracization and embrace it as what makes the patient special.

Q: What’s it going to be like to finally walk across the stage and get your M.D. this May?
A: Breathe-taking. It has been a journey of humbling struggles and beautiful experiences. However, I recognize that this M.D. is not mine alone in achieving – I owe it entirely to (1) my mother, father, and brother for their unfailing love and support, and (2) to God for giving me the strength and a purpose.


Learn more about UConn Health’s 2023 Commencement.