Marissa Galicia-Castillo, MD, MSEd, sits on a table in an office with bookcases behind her.

Kindred Spirit

Using old-fashioned medicine, new Glennan Center director fosters community.

Marissa Galicia-Castillo, MD, MSEd, was an Internal Medicine resident at EVMS and seven months pregnant when she became dehydrated and turned pale while on rounds.

“My whole team took me to the emergency room,” she remembers. “They made sure I was OK, and someone took my call shift that night.

For the new Director of the Glennan Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology at EVMS, being part of a supportive community like that is vital.

Dr. Galicia-Castillo (MD ’97, Internal Medicine Residency ’00), grew up in Norfolk and stayed in the region for college to be near her parents, who had moved to Coastal Virginia from the Philippines.

She stayed again in Hampton Roads to study medicine, complete her internship and residency in internal medicine, a fellowship in geriatrics and to establish a distinguished career — all at EVMS.

“It makes it easy to stay when you’re in a place that you love,” says Dr. Galicia-Castillo, the John Franklin Distinguished Chair for Geriatrics and a leader in geriatric education and care. “EVMS has been such a collegial environment. Everyone is so helpful.”

Marissa Galicia-Castillo works with a patient
"Medicine is all about taking care of people. Look at geriatrics and palliative medicine. It’s just old-fashioned medicine, taking care of people, knowing them and understanding them to help them."
Marissa Galicia-Castillo, MD

That kind of support is a key to success for patients, as well as practitioners, says Dr. Galicia- Castillo, who also directs the Brock Fellowship for Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Palliative care is a team-based approach to relieving the symptoms and stress of a serious illness.

Dr. Galicia-Castillo became director of the Glennan Center in October, and succeeded the retiring Robert Palmer, MD, MPH. The center promotes health, well-being, independence and quality of life in older adults through clinical practice, education, research and advocacy.

“She has been and continues to be the backbone of the Glennan Center,” Dr. Palmer says, citing his successor’s perpetual optimism, commitment to patients and passion for geriatrics and palliative care.

He offers a list of adjectives to describe Dr. Galicia-Castillo: inspirational, masterful, dedicated, devoted, creative and energetic. He adds that she is “a living example of being community-oriented” and that she is modest, so he wants to do some bragging for her.

He lists just some of her accomplishments.

She has been recognized by Coastal Virginia Magazine as a “Top Doc” in both geriatrics and palliative medicine. She was named a “Health Care Hero” in the physician specialist category by Inside Business. She was in charge of the Lillian & Gideon Welles Grime Fellowship in Geriatrics, and gave that up only because she was instrumental in creating the Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship. She developed a special geriatrics internal-medicine track for medical students. She’s served as chair of the ethics committee at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and as president of the Norfolk Academy of Medicine. She is a role model for women in academic medicine. Attendees of her lectures have praised her teaching and oratory skills.

Dr. Galicia-Castillo’s interest in geriatrics started when she was a freshman in high school.

She watched her independent grandmother suddenly grow ill and then die of kidney failure in the hospital.

“I remember when they called ‘code blue,’ ” she says. “I remember sitting there and thinking, ‘Is that my grandma?’ Things didn’t compute.”

At Booker T. Washington High School, she graduated in the Medical and Health Specialties Program, now a collaboration between Maury High School and EVMS.

Then she earned a full scholarship to a program offered jointly by Old Dominion University and EVMS. She attended ODU for three years, completed her fourth year at EVMS and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry as she was on her way to becoming a doctor.

She also earned a master’s degree in education from ODU.

“I wanted to help people,” she says. “You’ve got to know the science part of what’s going on.

There’s also a part that’s art. Even though science can tell you certain things, the way you apply it can be different. That’s reflected in geriatric and palliative medicine.”

Her interest in geriatrics also stems from observing geriatricians during her internship.

She was amazed by how things that seemed simple, such as getting older patients out of bed, made a big difference by improving their quality of life.

Dr. Galicia-Castillo says she wants to build on what the Glennan Center has accomplished under Dr. Palmer in education, clinical care and research and strengthen collaborations both within and outside of EVMS.

A big challenge, she says, is recruiting students to fill the national shortage in the field of geriatrics. With the high cost of training to be a physician, students are in so much debt that they are drawn toward more lucrative specialties, she says, adding that the system is slowly changing.

In 2014, she offered some career advice for that year’s graduating class at EVMS, telling students to remember that medicine is “all about taking care of  people.”

She feels the same way today.

“Look at geriatrics and palliative medicine,” she says. “It’s just old-fashioned medicine, taking care of people, knowing them and understanding them to help them.”