Jullianne Wilke will start her fourth and final year of medical school on July 1, firm in her goal of becoming a pediatric specialist – and relieved of the financial pressure of having to pay the tuition for her last three semesters of medical school.
”I feel incredibly honored,” Wilke said, of being chosen as the first recipient of the Drs. Felix and Elisa Hurtado Scholarship for Pediatric Medicine, which began covering her tuition in January of this year.
She also credits her mentor, Jong M. Rho, MD, a pediatric neurologist at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, for being the first to suggest that she pursue a career in medicine.
“He asked me one day, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’” Wilke recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t know, I might go to physicians’ assistant school or I might become a lab tech.’ And he said ‘No, you’re smart enough, you should go to medical school. You can do it.’
“I owe a lot to him,” Wilke said. “He is absolutely hands down the reason I’m here.”
Wilke earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she was born. She began thinking about a career in health care toward the end of her junior year.
After graduating, Wilke moved to Phoenix. There she spent three years working in Rho’s research lab, studying the neuro-protective effects of the high-fat, zero-carb ketogenic diet, which can put a stop to seizures in some children. That experience, and the fact that she loves working with babies and children, convinced her that pediatrics was the right field for her.
Felix and Elisa Hurtado were pediatricians in Cuba who fled the country in 1961 to escape the oppressive regime of Fidel Castro.
After spending 15 years with the U.S. Indian Health Service in Oklahoma and New Mexico, and working in El Salvador and Panama with the International Health Service, the Hurtados moved to Sells, to work with the Indian Health Service on the Tohono O'odham reservation. They moved to Tucson when Felix Hurtado became the Indian Health Service area director. Elisa Hurtado continued her work in Sells, commuting from Tucson to the reservation.
The Hurtados’ daughter, Elisa Kinder, of Tucson, established the scholarship fund last December to honor her parents. She and Wilke met in March, over lunch.
“I feel Julianne is a student who is very goal-oriented and will not give up on her goals,” Kinder said. “I am confident that Julianne will become a very caring doctor to the kids who become her patients. Her personality and her warmth made me sure of that.”
Wilke is considering several areas of pediatric specialization: neonatology, pediatric hematology-oncology, and pediatric intensive care.
“I absolutely love Arizona,” she said. “I really, really like living here. I’m hoping I can stay.”