HSHP alumnus conducts gerontology and healthcare research at Brown

A 2019 Harlingen School of Health Professions graduate, and current Brown University sophomore, Aaron Castillo was recently awarded the Ginsberg Aging Research Fund from the Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research.

Through this project, Castillo will examine the impacts of COVID-19 on Medicare Advantage beneficiaries and telehealth access.

 “Individuals who are 65 and older may not have access to internet or technological devices,” Castillo said. “Given that the world has gone virtual, their ability to choose a plan and therefore receive care has been impacted. So, I will be doing qualitative research by interviewing stakeholders in the Medicare Advantage world, individuals who are Medicare Advantage beneficiaries, and other groups that help individuals enroll in healthcare to see where the pitfalls have been, what can be improved, and how they think that can be done.”

Although Castillo has always been interested in pursuing a career in healthcare, he did not discover his passion for research until he got to Brown University.

“I always thought research was going to be working with a pipette in a lab, and that was never something that interested me,” Castillo said. “When I got to Brown, I was opened up to this world of research where you could actually work with people and talk to people. I was immediately very intrigued because I wanted to do something where I actually interacted with others and made a difference, not on the biological or molecular scale, but more on the humanistic side of things.”

Castillo’s journey into research began when he started working as a research assistant with professor Dr. Maricruz Rivera-Hernandez.

“When I first applied for the position, the principal investigator who was Dr. Rivera-Hernandez was really impressed by the fact that I was a medical assistant which is a certification that I got through HSHP,” Castillo said. “I had a lot of prior knowledge on Medicare Advantage, traditional Medicare, and health insurance in general because that is something that we had to learn at school.”

The skills, experience, and certification he obtained from high school made him a standout candidate when applying to be a research assistant and later when applying for the Ginsberg Aging Research Fund.

“When Dr. Rivera-Hernandez interviewed me, one of the things she said was that she thought I was a med student because of all the things on my resume,” he said. “These were all things that I was able to do in high school because I attended HSHP. I was able to get this prior knowledge in research that has proven to be very beneficial in many facets.”

 Using his medical assistant certification, he has even gotten involved with COVID-19 clinics.

“I have been able to give vaccines at COVID vaccination sites because of that certification,” Castillo said. “So, I have been able to not only do research that impacts future decisions but also provide vaccines to people who really need them in a time like this.”

His mentor, Dr. Rivera-Hernandez was the one who encouraged him to apply for the Ginsberg Aging Research Fund. Castillo along with two other students were selected to receive the research funds that will allow them to conduct their individual projects.

“I definitely feel honored,” Castillo said. “It is a really great opportunity. It is really, really exciting. Given the time we are in and the fact that it doesn’t look like the virtual world will go away any time soon, it’s very pertinent research that could possibly have a big impact on providing access and better resources for older individuals.”

Currently, Castillo is part of the Program in Liberal Medical Education at Brown.

“So essentially when I applied to Brown, I also got into medical school,” Castillo said. “I don’t have to take the MCAT or do other things like that which is the reason why I had the opportunity to do this research in the first place. I am hoping to become a psychiatrist and do work in food psychology to study how we think about food. You know when you eat something now as an adult and are able to remember a moment from your childhood? That’s a concept that is very interesting to me.”



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