Newswise — For Erika Maestas, MD, the journey to The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center is a journey home.

Maestas grew up in Albuquerque, while her parents hailed from rural northern New Mexico. She sees her ties to the Land of Enchantment’s roads less traveled as a pathway to greater connections to her patients at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Maestas will begin to treat patients this summer, focusing on gastrointestinal cancers, but “doing a little bit of everything” as well.

She says she came to love the oncology profession because it combines advancements in science with the personal.

“You have that scientific side to it, but it also allows you to connect with the patient,” she says. “That’s very important in the sense that you’re making recommendations that are changing people’s lives. So building up that trust with patients and their families is very important.”

Maestas says she became interested in medicine as a teenager when her dad became ill and needed a kidney transplant. The process left a lasting impact.

“It was the whole process; how medicine can give people a second chance and impact their lives and families,” she says.

Maestas would take that passion to UNM, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in Biology and in Spanish. She would follow those achievements with a doctorate in medicine from the UNM School of Medicine before finishing her internal medicine residency at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill.

She will complete her three-year hematology oncology fellowship at the UNM Cancer Center in June.

“I knew early on in my fellowship that I wanted to stay in New Mexico,” she says.

She says she liked that the UNM Cancer Center’s cutting edge research into cancer treatments gives her a chance to continue learning about the disease and new ways to fight it while continuing to do what she loves: working with patients.

“I’m a native New Mexican,” she says, “and I feel a special connection to the patient population here.”