'Everything has been Gearing' Dr. Hal Marmolejos for Medical Career
No matter the question, no matter the person who asked it, 7-month-old Ehdisyn Marmolejos had a habit of shaking her head “no” in response.
But when her father, Hal Marmolejos, asked her one day if he should go to medical school, it was the first time he ever saw her nod “yes.”
The moment brought tears to Hal’s eyes. He jumped up and down.
“That experience opened my eyes to the world of medicine,” Hal said. “It was a moment of clarity, that everything in my life had been leading me toward becoming a doctor.”
When Hal’s daughter was born, her twin brother Huxton was healthy, but she suffered unusually low energy in her early months, which alerted the family and prompted a series of clinical visits. Doctors discovered she had an enlarged hole in her heart. The Marmolejos family spent more than two months at the hospital bedside as doctors treated her condition.
Seven years later, Hal is on his way to helping others the same way physicians helped his daughter. Now Dr. Marmolejos, he is a first-year anesthesiology resident at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.
The path to residency was a long road but made possible through Dr. Marmolejos’s hard work, his desire to serve, and his craving for constant challenges. But those qualities didn’t initially take him to medicine. In fact, before his daughter was born, medicine was the last career path he expected to take.
Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Dr. Marmolejos’s family sought refuge in the United States when he was 14 years old. They attended school just outside of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Dr. Marmolejos began taking classes to learn English. He picked up the language in only six months.
Dr. Marmolejos was in awe of the abundant opportunities available in the U.S., and he developed a profound appreciation for his new country. Immediately after high school, he applied for the Air Force, where he served as a cook for eight years before climbing the ranks to leadership roles in hospitality. After gaining full U.S. citizenship, he became a sensor operator of MQ-9 Reaper drones. Stationed in Las Vegas, he eventually was named the youngest flight chief (in terms of flying hours) of the entire Air Force drone community.
“This country has given me and my family a better life, and I thought if someone in my family should sacrifice for this country, I wanted to be the one to do it,” he said. “It has been so rewarding.”
His military career was taking off, so why would he direct his focus to a health care career, which was such a big unknown?
It felt like destiny after his daughter’s medical experience. Then once his daughter gave that fateful nod, the Marmolejos family decided to take the leap of faith and begin the next phase of their lives.
Dr. Marmolejos completed his undergraduate education at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, followed by medical school at Auburn University.
When it came time to apply for residency, he heard rave reviews about the UK College of Medicine Department of Anesthesiology and was drawn to the department’s informative and engaging YouTube videos.
He also saw amazing possibilities for his family if they moved to Lexington. In the midst of COVID-19, when in-person interviews were done virtually, he took a spontaneous family trip to explore the city. After a self-guided tour, a trip to the Kentucky Horse Park, and dinner at a few restaurants, his family was sold, and their hearts were set on the Commonwealth.
Much to his surprise, fate showed itself again.
Caleb Kennon, MD, is a third-year anesthesiology resident at the UK College of Medicine. Like Dr. Marmolejos, he serves in the Air Force.
He was also one of the reasons UK started to feel like home for Dr. Marmolejos. Knowing he had someone in his program that could serve as a mentor, someone who understood his journey, was a primary reason for choosing UK. Dr. Marmolejos called Dr. Kennon an “exemplary individual” and someone he hopes to emulate through his medical career.
“The military is an extremely small community, especially when you share career fields,” Dr. Kennon said. “The fact that we didn’t run in to each other in the early part of our military careers is probably as unlikely as me signing up to interview Dr. Marmolejos during interview season.”
After Dr. Marmolejos’s interview, Dr. Kennon immediately contacted program director Annette Rebel, MD, and told her that if he was building a team, he’d pick Dr. Marmolejos without reservation because “his presence and character will establish the culture a winning and successful team requires.” That’s no easy impression to make during a 30-minute Zoom session.
Having the shared experience of the military “established a foundation of trust and brotherhood early and effortlessly.” In the U.S. Air Force, Dr. Kennon said teamwork and accountability becomes so automatic that after a while, one can spot other service members simply by their mannerisms.
“All these experiences and expectations force you to mature at a young age and become a reliable team member while acting with integrity and seeking out excellence,” Dr. Kennon said. “The consequences of anything less can result in the ultimate sacrifice when we fall short of the established standards.
There’s a special bond between the two military men knowing they can count on each other.
“Just wait,” Dr. Kennon added. “He’s going to do great, great things.”
With his family by his side, Dr. Marmolejos found out he was accepted to the UK anesthesiology residency program on Match Day 2021.
Just a month into residency, medicine is everything Dr. Marmolejos wanted in a career: an opportunity to serve his country, an intellectually stimulating day-to-day, and an entry point into a career through which he could potentially save lives.
Dr. Marmolejos doesn’t have to give up the military just yet. He is enrolled in the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) which means he has committed at least four more years of service in repayment of his four years of graduate medical education.
He looks ahead to four more years in Lexington and the rewarding career path his daughter led him to.
“I feel like everything has been gearing me toward this,” he said. “All I can say is I’m just so blessed.”