WAIMEA — Just two years into his young career, Dr. Mark Villarin has delivered nearly 300 babies and performed more than 200 cesarean sections. The 27-year-old physician says he found inspiration to pursue this career originally back in high school, volunteering at North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea.
In the 10 years since graduating from Honokaa High School, Villarin has finished college and medical school and is now in residency as a licensed physician at the University of Hawaii at Manoa John A. Burns School of Medicine on Oahu. His daily schedule begins as early as 5 a.m. and ends around 8 or 9 p.m. at night.
“We train mostly at Kapiolani Medical Center, about 70 percent of the time,” he said. “I’ve also provided care at Queen’s Medical Center, Kaiser Moanalua and Pali Momi.”
Villarin chose his specialty as an ob-gyn because it allows him to develop long-term relationships with patients and their families.
“It’s so unique to care for people through the entire spectrum of life,” he said. “I also became very fond of the operating room. Although rotating through various surgical specialties, I only saw myself as an ob-gyn surgeon.”
He currently performs vaginal deliveries, C-sections and takes care of high and low-risk obstetric patients.
“Our gynecology training includes women’s general health care and gynecologic disorders, which we treat medically and surgically including D&C (dilation and curettage), laparoscopy, and exploratory laparotomy for a variety of diseases,” Villarin said. “By the end of my training, I will have done 80-100 hysterectomies. We also provide contraception counseling and family planning.”
He got his first taste of medicine volunteering alongside Leila Staniec, a now retired employee at North Hawaii Community Hospital.
“In 11th and 12th grades at Honokaa High School I helped in the emergency department where she was the volunteer services coordinator,” Villarin said. “She inspired me to pursue higher education and encouraged me to ask questions about the world around me, to read, develop a sense of culture and a purpose in our community that she exemplified.”
While attending UH Hilo he studied pre-nursing and changed to medicine halfway through college. He started medical school at age 21 as one of the youngest in his class.
“I enjoyed the sciences, particularly cell biology and biochemistry. Medicine is essentially the application of what is learned in the lab,” Villarin said. “I wanted to be at the forefront of patient care.”
He started with a good foundation.
“Growing up in Waimea, I really valued the small town feel, the weather and the mountains,” Villarin said. “I remember feeling very safe there.”
He also had good role models at home. His mom, Mimi, has been a nurse for more than 25 years and now serves in that capacity at Hawaii Preparatory Academy.
“My mother taught me how to care for patients,” Villarin said. “In elementary school, I remember her at Honokaa Hospital (now Hale Hoola Hamakua) providing compassionate and whole-person care. She put her patients before herself. She taught me that involving the patient’s family in the care of her patient is a part of healing. She would always mention how rewarding it was to be in her profession and encouraged me at a young age to consider pursuing health care as a career.”
Mimi feels he had an initiative all his own.
“I am so proud of what he has accomplished. He has worked hard for it,” she said. “I remember his initiative even when he was in ninth grade. He saw this ad for a job at a B&B and he got it, doing all sorts of work there. He didn’t even tell me until later. He’s always had the drive and has done everything on his own. Now that he’s a doctor, he’s happiest seeing a new life when the babies are born after working with the moms for months.”
Villarin also felt driven by his late grandmother.
“Ascuncion Ramil dreamt of her children receiving education in the States. She was from the Philippines and knew what hard work was,” he said. “She was the matriarch of our family. My brother and cousins are all educated, successful individuals. We can all thank our grandmother for that.”
Villarin gives credit to his professors, Norbert Furumo and Christine Kornet, while in college for helping him prepare for his MCAT, medical school applications and medical school interviews.
“I was very lucky to get into medical school, as there are a lot of applicants,” he said. “I still keep in touch with my professors today. UH Hilo provided me an excellent undergraduate education that truly prepared me for the rigors of medical school.”
Spending four years in medical school can be challenging, to say the least.
“The amount of information that is presented is insane,” Villarin reflected. “That being said, it is possible to power through it. Looking back, it is not that I worked hard and studied countless hours that got me through, but support from my family, medical school friends, professors and faith. I learned that my success is only a reflection of the success of those around me. It all starts from the home. I will never have to work as hard as my parents have, with all the obstacles they overcame as immigrants from the Philippines.”
Coming full circle, he thinks giving back to the community is an honor, and hopes to work in Waimea again one day.
“My career goal is to practice medicine where I was born and raised,” Villarin said. “The dwindling access to primary care for women on Hawaii Island compels me to quickly return and serve in the land that has given so much to me.”