Wallesca Castro, a student in the Clinical Psychology Program (PsyD) at Ponce Health Sciences University (PHSU), is the first Latina to be selected as a Behavioral Health Resident at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute, which is part of the Christiana Care Health System in Wilmington, Delaware.
“Working at Christiana Care’s Graham Cancer Center is transforming me both professionally and personally,” says Castro, whose many duties at the hospital include providing therapy for patients and their families from diagnosis and treatment to recovery or end-of-life.
“It’s giving me the opportunity to support my patients and their families during one of the most difficult times of their lives, and also for them to be comforted by the fact that this team doesn’t give up: we care and we deliver services and treatment with excellence and love.
Because of the travel requirements of her father’s work as a missionary when she was growing up in Puerto Rico, Castro lived in cities and towns across the island –including Carolina, Toa Alta, Vega Alta, and Manati y Ponce. She began high school at Academia Discípulos de Cristo in Manati and graduated in 2005 with National Beta Club honors from Academia Bautista de Puerto Nuevo.
In 2011, she graduated from Universidad Teológica del Caribe with a major in Education and a minor in Theology, and enrolled in Pontificia Universidad Católica de Ponce to complete psychology courses in order to apply for a graduate degree.
Castro learned about PHSU’s PsyD program while on a missionary trip to Panama: she was working with medical students from the school who were providing services at free community clinics with the native Ngäbe-Buglé population.
She was accepted to PHSU’s PsyD in 2012, and is on track to graduate in June of this year. Once she graduates, Castro plans to pursue a postdoctoral degree in psycho-oncology. She also aims to continue working with her mentors from PHSU –Dr. Julio Jimenez and Dr. Eida Castro– in the research field of psycho-oncology, as well as serving the oncology population of patients, caregivers, and families in her future endeavors.
“PHSU’s amazing PsyD program integrates neuroscience and psychopharmacology, which offers a huge advantage when working in a medical setting,” says Castro. “It has given me the opportunity to be trained in different theoretical models and diverse assessment tools, and also to be trained while I see patients. Most PsyD programs don’t have such an advanced practitioner-scholar model.” Dr. Nicole Duffy, Director of Psychosocial Oncology at Graham Cancer Center, has been moved by Castro’s passion for working with those who have been impacted by cancer and her desire to fulfill the unmet needs of underserved communities.
“Wallesca’s enthusiasm and spirit is palpable, and she quickly develops trust and rapport through her warm and direct style,” says Dr. Duffy. “She uses her identity as a bilingual, bicultural woman to connect with culturally diverse clients from a variety of countries of origin and she helps with compassion and generosity. Given that her internship year began as hurricane season was unfolding, Wallesca was able to leverage her experiences as a Puerto Rican woman who was impacted by Hurricane Maria to connect –and gain credibility– with persons who struggled to access basic necessities, and felt marginalized or left behind.
“She’s taken on many new challenges during this training year and has grown tremendously as a clinician and in her professional development.”