Sylvia Del Castillo, MD, grew up in Brownsville, Texas, graduated from medical school at Texas A&M College of Medicine. After completing her residency at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Maricopa Medical Center, she came to CHLA as a fellow in pediatric critical care medicine, and liked it so much that she never left. She loves the people she works with and the patients in her care. “This is truly a unique place to work, because the people here at CHLA treat each other with respect,” says Del Castillo.
1. What did you say when you were a young girl and someone asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I’ve said that I wanted to be a doctor—specifically a pediatrician—ever since I can remember. In my high school yearbook, I was voted “smiles the most,” and when they asked the question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” my answer was a pediatrician.
2. When did you realize you wanted to be a doctor?
I realized at a very young age, perhaps around 6 or 7 years old, that I wanted to be a doctor, and it was because of my pediatrician, Dr. Salinger. When I had to visit him in the office for a checkup, he and his office staff always made me feel safe and comfortable, and they would always make me laugh. He had a great bedside manner and would explain things to me in a way that helped me to understand medicine.
3. Name a challenge you faced in your journey to where you are now.
I struggled with my academic performance during my first year of medical school, and it really made me question whether or not this was the right career path for me; but with the help of my faith, my family, and some of my closest friends, I was able to overcome my obstacles and succeed in completing my goal of becoming a physician.
4. Did anyone say to you, "You can’t do that because you’re a girl?"
It was sophomore year, and I had just transferred from junior college to Texas A&M University and met with a guidance counselor to make sure my credits would transfer over. The counselor looked at my file, and said that even though I had excelled in high school and junior college, I would more likely be successful looking at nursing as a career instead of medicine because I was a woman.
I was quite surprised by her comments. I had wonderful mentors during high school (both men and women alike) who encouraged and supported me every step of the way. I didn’t consider changing my mind for a second, as I could literally not see myself doing anything else. My parents’ words resonated in my mind: “Believe in yourself and stay close to God, and you can accomplish anything.” Ultimately that is what kept me going.
5. What would you tell a young girl right now who wants to be a doctor?
I would say you can do anything you set your mind to. Medicine is one of the most rewarding careers that I could have ever asked for and I truly believe it is a calling, but it is also very demanding of one’s time and there needs to be a balance. There are so many amazing mentors out there, both men and women alike. One of my favorite words is resilience; find a mentor who can help you understand that resilience is the key to becoming whatever you want to be. Life is tough, and it will knock you down, but as long as you are resilient and learn to get back up, you will be just fine.
Sylvia Del Castillo, MD, is medical director of the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and clinical associate professor of Pediatrics (clinician educator) at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.