All-Female Inaugural Surgical Residency Class Graduates from Memorial Healthcare System's Graduate Medical Education

June 27, 2024

Established in July 2019 by the esteemed general and critical care surgeon Eddy Carrillo, MD, Memorial Healthcare System's General Surgery Residency Program welcomed its first cohort of future surgeons. Despite the historical underrepresentation of women in surgical residency programs nationwide, the inaugural class included five female physicians aspiring to become exceptional surgeons.

Under Dr. Carrillo’s leadership, the program established a solid foundation, integrating all the essential elements to create an exceptional training environment. The journey faced numerous challenges, including securing ACGME accreditation and navigating the COVID-19 pandemic while maintaining rigorous training schedules. Despite the intense pressure, their resilience and commitment ensured the continuation of essential surgical services and highlighted their role as vital frontline healthcare workers during the global health crisis.

“Watching five interns transform into accomplished surgeons, with grit and determination has been one of the most amazing privileges and honors of my career, said Holly L. Neville, MD, associate chief medical officer and program director of General Surgery Residency at Memorial Healthcare System. “From working tirelessly to recruit the brightest and the best, to honing their own skills as surgeons, their efforts have been instrumental in building the outstanding reputation the program enjoys today.”

Meet the Five Female Surgeons

2024 inaugural class of all women surgical residents

Dr. Gabriela Aitken, as the administrative chief of the program, took charge of programming and administration. She organized call schedules, rotations, days off, and cross-coverage for 29 residents, ensuring the residency program's structure and organization were exemplary. Born in Washington, DC, Dr. Aitken lived in Bogotá, Colombia, and Weston, Florida. She earned a bachelor's degree in biology with a minor in theology from Georgetown University. After gaining valuable experience as a medical assistant for a surgeon, she attended Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, where she decided to pursue surgery. Inspired by her mentors, chief of Surgical Oncology Christopher Gannon, MD and surgical oncologist Omar Llaguna, MD, Dr. Aitken will join the University of Tennessee next summer for a fellowship in surgical oncology.

Jennifer Palacio, MD, with her quiet strength, advised on better structuring the academic curriculum and developed strong early leadership skills working with junior residents. Dr. Palacio was born and raised in Miami, deeply rooted in the South Florida community. She earned her undergraduate degree from Florida International University and graduated from the university’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, where she demonstrated academic excellence and a notable ability to connect with and care for patients. Her diligence and thoughtful demeanor have set her apart and she has been a source of support, reason and inspiration to all who have worked with her. Dr. Palacio exemplified the qualities of a true healthcare professionals: confidence, measured, thoughtful and precise.

She is embarking on a new chapter in her career, entering the field of cosmetic surgery.

Rachel Pruett, MD was instrumental in acquiring the program’s first teaching console and encouraged the expansion of general surgery and robotics. Dr. Pruett grew up in Harrison Arkansas, a place that instilled in her a strong sense of community and perseverance and helped form her passion to return to practice in a small-town community in Missouri, close to home. She began her academic career at Wichita Baptist University before advancing to the University of Arkansas School of Medical Sciences where she earned her medical degree.

Dr. Pruett will practice general surgery in Missouri.

Megan Shumway, MD (Research Chief) spearheaded the program’s research efforts, resulting in impressive resident publications. Dr. Shumway’s story is that of perseverance, persistence and passion for medicine, surgery and trauma surgery. Born and raised in Royal Oak, Michigan, in the metro Detroit area, Dr. Shumway grew up in a family of engineers, who instilled in her a strong work ethic and analytical “how to fix it” mind. She was raised in a big family with three siblings, however tragically lost her younger sister to brain cancer during childhood, an experience that impacted her commitment to the medical field. Dr. Shumway has shown remarkable resilience and determination. She completed her undergraduate studies at Michigan State University and graduated from Western Michigan University School of Medicine.

Dr. Shumway moves on to be a trauma surgeon at Baylor University Medical Center in Texas.

Daisy Sanchez, MD, (Chief Surgery resident), has led a new generation of female surgeons with style, grace and pizazz, demonstrating that with hard work, dedication and an unwavering refusal to accept “no” for an answer, female surgeons can thrive. The oldest of 5 siblings, Dr. Sanchez was born in Fresno, California, to a large and supportive family. She attended the College of Charleston, where she began to shape her path in the medical field. She then pursued her medical degree at the Medical University of South Carolina, where her passion for surgery truly took flight. Dr. Sanchez’s early career as a cosmetologist honed excellent technical skills that she began in high school and practiced during college. Balancing the demanding responsibilities of being a surgeon and a mom is no small feat and she has excelled in both roles with grace.

This summer, Dr. Sanchez will join University of Texas San Antonio to train in plastic surgery.

Through its accredited Graduate Medical Education programs, Memorial Healthcare System provides opportunities for medical school graduates to train at one of the largest and most dynamic public healthcare systems in the United States. With 252 total residents, Memorial’s GME includes 15 accredited programs (11 residencies and four fellowships). There are 152 are women trainees in all GME residency/fellowships and a total of 21 women in the General Surgery Residency.