‘All I needed was a chance’

April 11, 2018

By Raul Vintimilla, Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience

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I had earned my medical degree and finished a three-year hospital residency in Cuenca, Ecuador when I decided to move my family to the United States.

I had discovered during my training that clinical care was not my passion — research was. And the United States was the land of innovative research.

So 23 years ago, my wife, our two young children and I arrived in Fort Worth, and I begin working toward my master’s degree in public health at UNT Health Science Center.

I earned the degree in the early 2000s. But the private research companies where I applied for jobs all told me I had the qualifications but not the experience I needed. I had a family to support. So I instead took a job teaching AP Spanish at Leonard Middle School in Fort Worth.

One year passed. Two years passed. Suddenly 10 years had passed. As much I enjoyed teaching middle school, it wasn’t why I had brought my family to the United States. My wife asked, “When you are going to try research again?”

She was right – I had to try again. In 2012 I found a job posting for a research assistant working for Dr. Sid O’Bryant and Dr. Leigh Johnson in the UNTHSC Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience. At my interview, I told them I knew I didn’t have research experience yet, but all I needed was for someone to give me the chance to try.

Dr. O’Bryant said all he could offer me then was a job making phone calls and handling scheduling for research trials. I told him I’d take it!

So I learned everything from the bottom up. As I proved myself, I gained more responsibility. I got my clinical research coordinator certificate. I started performing neuropsychological testing on research participants and coordinating trials. Under the mentorship of Dr. O’Bryant, Dr. Johnson and Professor James Hall, PhD, I became a contributing author on several published research papers.

Recently, I was informed that my first research paper with me as a first author was accepted for publication in Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders Extra. The paper focuses on the link between potassium and mild cognitive impairment.

Today, I am a research scientist and doing what I love. I am grateful to the Health Science Center for making that possible.


Raul Vintimilla, MPH, is a research scientist in the Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience

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