Challenged and changed

by Cameron Barruga '18, biology


Cameron Barruga graduated from Walla Walla University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in biology. Since then, he has been studying medicine at Loma Linda University. After his graduation in June, Barruga matched in urology at a combined residency program at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and Eastern Virginia Medical School. Here he reflects on his time in medical school. The story was originally published in LLU's ALUMNI JOURNAL

“Cameron, please tell me all the different ways someone can present with gross hematuria.” As those words left the attending’s mouth, I began to feel what most medical students feel when they realize they are about to settle in for a long case in the operating room with a very academically inclined and well-respected physician: sweaty palms, chest palpitations, and a general state of stress. 

It was August 2021, and I was on my urology sub-internship in preparation for the application cycle. Stress levels were at an all-time high as feelings of inadequacy, doubt, and failure began to creep into my head. I fumbled through what I hoped was a plausible response, and the attending shot back with a deeper, more complex question. I knew I was in for quite the afternoon.

My route to urology was a bit circuitous, if not unexpected. I can distinctly recall coming home from shadowing a urologist during my undergraduate education and telling my mother, “Mom, I know I do not want to be a urologist. I do not want to be working down there with that stuff for the rest of my life!” However, as I started medical school and began to actually unpack what I truly wanted in life and in medicine, I found urology to be the perfect solution. 

Urology has it all: technology and innovation, the chance to work with your hands while also thinking and treating with your mind, balance between clinic and dedicated operating time for large and small procedures, good patient outcomes and satisfaction, a component of preventive medicine with men’s health awareness, and, perhaps most importantly, the best people and jokes in medicine. My experience in Loma Linda University’s urology department opened my eyes to these considerations and awakened my calling to pursue the specialty. I often felt spoiled by the generous mentorship I was given from the residents and attendings; I never walked away from a day with the department without a smile on my face. 

I could go on and on about how much I love urology. I did a complete 180 degree flip from what I expected/experienced in undergraduate education to what I actually found to be true in medical school. It is funny how our thoughts and ideas can be influenced by a singular experience only to be changed much later with a different perspective.

The rest of the procedure described above had some complications. I remember the attending asking me question after question, some of which I could not answer. At one point he paused and observed the monitor as the patient started to lose blood and become hypotensive. What transpired next I can only describe as controlled chaos. There was a flurry of activity as the operating room staff started to hurriedly, and with some degree of panic, move around the attending. Meanwhile, the attending furiously, but with complete control of the situation, expertly sought to establish exposure of the problem. He quickly found the bleeding vessel and with great composure pinched it off with his hands, as if this situation was routine. I already had a high degree of respect for this attending, but it was pushed up tenfold after witnessing his composure and calm in the most critical of circumstances. The rest of the case was uneventful, and I was even allowed to close the skin, always a treat for a budding surgeon medical student. After the procedure I was still feeling a bit low due to missing some of the questions the attending asked, but as we were walking back to his office he said, “Great job today, Cam; loved having you on service. Keep up the good work.”

As I come to the end of medical school and reflect, I cannot help but see parallels between my medical school experience and my time in the operating room that day. Medical school is grueling. It can take a physical toll on your body. Some days are interminable, and you get asked questions for which you have no answers. It can make you doubt a lot about yourself with all the exams, tests, and complications. We have been surrounded by amazing classmates, deans, mentors, attendings, and residents who will always be there to let us know we are doing a good job and remind us why it is all worthwhile. The peer-to-peer mentorship culture on our campus is a gift; I always felt by the end of the day all would be well because my classmates had my back. Most importantly, at Loma Linda University we are on a spirit-filled, God-fearing campus that encourages and affirms faith, which has always been important to me in regard to my personal outlook on whole person care and growth as an individual. I am going to miss this campus dearly, but I wear the badge of being an alumnus with pride because of my wonderful medical school experience.

Cameron Barruga finishes a surgery.
(From left) Cameron Barruga ’16 and Stephanie Jensen of Loma Linda University’s urology residency program closing skin during the nephrectomy described in Barruga’s story.