Channa Blakely is blazing trails as a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
She is the first osteopathic physician, the first African American female and the first PCOM alumni in the institution’s history to be matched with the University of Texas Medical Branch vascular surgery residency.
“It almost feels like I’m not looking at myself,” said Blakely, who graduated from PCOM on May 24.
“It’s like wow — you really just did that. You’ve just made history on so many levels.”
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Blakely was introduced to medicine by watching doctors on television. But her grandmother, Bertha Blakely, would become a pivotal force in her decision to become a physician. The family matriarch was hospitalized and ultimately died from complications of diabetes at the age of 85. She developed gangrene and bedsores and it was apparent that she wasn’t receiving the appropriate care.
It was during that time that Blakely decided that she would become a more caring doctor. However she was derailed by her grandmother’s death.
“It made me feel at first, like I didn’t want to do anything,” said Blakely, who is 29.
“I didn’t want to complete high school. It was very hard for me. It wasn’t until I got towards my senior year of high school that I realized that this is what I need to do.”
Blakely went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Rutgers University in New Brunswick and attend PCOM.
She always knew she had an interest in surgery, but a chance meeting introduced her to the area she would eventually specialize in.
During her first year at PCOM, Blakely went to the Society of Black Academic Surgeons conference in Columbus, Ohio, where she met a resident in vascular surgery. The resident encouraged her to pursue this specialty when she realized it aligned with her interests.
“I told her that I was interested in working with a certain population,” said Blakely, who is member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
“I would like to work with diabetics, those with hypertension and patients with renal failure. These are things that were prevalent in my family with my grandmother and my aunt.”
Blakely became involved with the Society for Vascular Surgery and conducted research at the University of Pennsylvania. After securing her first vascular surgery rotation at the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania she knew a career as a surgeon would be a ideal fit.
While studying at PCOM, Blakely had the opportunity to do clinical rotations at more than 15 hospitals in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. She enjoyed working in the hospital and clinical setting and interacting with her patients.
Now she’s looking forward to heading to Galveston, Texas for the University of Texas Medical Branch vascular surgery residency program.
“I’m excited to start something new and to accomplish my dream,” Blakely said.
Dr. Michael Silva Jr., chief of vascular surgery at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said there are around 50 vascular surgery residency programs across the country.
The University of Texas Medical Branch vascular surgery residency program is highly sought after. One applicant per year is selected for the five-year program. Vascular surgery residents learn basic surgical principles by exposure to a wide variety of surgical specialties including general surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, transplant surgery, hepatobiliary surgery and trauma surgery.
“Since there are so few programs like this across the country, we usually have 120 applicants for one position and Channa had really distinguished herself at some of the rotations that she had done at the hospitals with other vascular surgeons that spoke highly of her and her performance,” Silva said.
He attributed the popularity of the University of Texas vascular surgery residency program to a few factors.
“I think that one is the long history of the University of Texas in training people and the other is I would say that we have the reputation for doing the most advanced, sort of novel procedures with vascular surgery,” Silva said.