For Mariquita (Kit) Belen, M.D., education runs in the family.
Northeast Ohio Medical University’s new director of geriatrics was raised by educators who ran their own self-funded private school, established in 1989 in the Philippines.
Her grandfather was a professor and her mother, a public school employee who doubled as a supervisor for the family’s private school.
And for years, even though she knew she wanted to be a doctor, Dr. Belen taught preschool through sixth grade at the family institution.
One day, one of Dr. Belen’s mentors at the school told her, “You know what, Kit, you really have to be a doctor. I know that’s what you’ve always wanted and if your parents were alive, they would want you to be a doctor. There are plenty of people here who can and will take care of your school.”
Creating a career in medicine
Almost 13 years ago, Dr. Belen, her husband and daughter, uprooted their lives in the Philippines to move to Ohio so Dr. Belen could pursue a family medicine residency at Summa Health.
Nearly two decades have gone by since she parted ways with her family’s school, but Dr. Belen still cherishes the value of education, and she brings that deep belief to her work with patients and now faculty, staff and students at NEOMED.
Ever since pursuing that family medicine residency at Summa Health, Dr. Belen says her career in medicine has had a “natural overlapping” with the University — from teaching NEOMED students to collaborating with its SOAR Student-Run Free Clinic.
Getting to know NEOMED
Now an official member of NEOMED, she likes describe her role as wearing three hats: She serves as the University’s director of geriatrics, is the director for the College of Medicine’s Principles of Clinical Medicine course and is the OutReach elective director.
As the new director of geriatrics, Dr. Belen ensures that the Department of Family and Community Medicine faculty and students have the proper resources and support for their education, research, service and grants.
“In a sense, all three roles have the same goal. We want to make sure that our students are competent, compassionate and servant leaders. We also would like to develop their foundational doctoring life skills, including resilience, effective communication, time management and professionalism. In medicine, we must be flexible and tolerant. Everything won’t always go as planned. Everyone will have different opinion and we respect that. In every patient care, there are so many moving parts. All have their important roles and responsibilities — but no matter what, we must learn to adapt and keep caring for our patients,” says Dr. Belen.
Sharing life lessons
She also likes to use her real-life friendships as a reminder to her students.
“In terms of my medical school friends, we were from all over the place already, but after residency we spread out across the world even further. That’s what I tell our medicine students — your classmates, they will be the first people that you can refer to when everybody is practicing, because not all of you will be in primary care — somebody will go to surgery, somebody will go to OB, somebody will go into cardiology,” says Dr. Belen.
It’s a built-in community support system that will last a lifetime. As for NEOMED, Dr. Belen is eager to help make a difference in the students’ lives — whether it be through education, research, service or grants.
“Of course I came here for medical education, but even more importantly, I came here with the hope of paying it forward. At NEOMED, every opportunity is a chance to pay it forward — every opportunity is a good, teachable moment. From the free clinic to medical education — that’s why we’re here.”