Bianca Camacho and her fellow midyear completers create unique paths to a Brown degree

Brown’s annual Midyear Completion Celebration on Saturday, Dec. 11, an in-person event that will be live-streamed, will celebrate the achievements of this year’s “.5ers,” who complete their degree requirements this month.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Aspiring physician Bianca Camacho knew since her childhood in Texas that she wanted to be a general practitioner.

“I just felt like medicine called to me,” said the soon-to-graduate Brown University senior. “I wanted to be that avenue for people to go to when they needed help.”

But after arriving at Brown in 2017, her focus shifted.

Camacho enrolled in Brown’s highly competitive Program in Liberal Medical Education, an innovative, intensive program through which students earn a bachelor’s degree from Brown and an M.D. from the Warren Alpert Medical School over an eight-year course of study. She immersed herself in the Open Curriculum, which exposed her to new areas of study, one of which ­— neuroscience —grabbed her interest immediately.

“I think all the questions I had growing up about myself: ‘Why do I think the way I do?’; ‘Why do I act the way I do?’ were answered,” she said. “The Open Curriculum gave me the opportunity to widen my worldview, while narrowing my core interests. I had the chance to explore and find my niche.”

Camacho sitting
Camacho, who is especially passionate about mental health destigmatization and addiction studies, delved into neuroscience scholarship after returning to campus from a brief leave.

With a new focus on neuroscience, her next step was to narrow down what aspect of the field intrigued her most. As she considered that daunting challenge, she decided to take a temporary academic leave in 2019. “I needed a break — it was a want and a need,” Camacho said. “I needed to pause and reflect about what I wanted to do going forward.”

Taking advantage of the time away from campus to research and read about neuroscience was the boost she needed to decide what to do next.

“That cemented that I wanted to do research when I came back to Brown, to pursue what I was learning through books and in class,” Camacho said. “I wanted to take that to the next level and apply it to a clinical and laboratory setting.”

She ended up double-concentrating in neuroscience and in science, technology and society, and she completes her degree requirements this month. She and other accomplished “.5ers” — Brown undergraduates who complete their degree requirements in December — will be honored on Saturday, Dec. 11, at the University’s annual in-person and live-streamed Midyear Completion Celebration. Camacho will serve the event’s student speaker.

Undergraduates may complete their degree requirements at midyear for a variety of reasons, including transferring from other schools, taking time off to pursue professional opportunities or creative projects, or requesting leave to focus on academic or medical issues.

“ Success is not what we always make it out to be at first. It’s very personal. What success looks like now may change in a year. Be open to change. ”

Bianca Camacho Class of 2021.5

Camacho didn’t want to preemptively reveal the details of what she’ll tell the approximately 155 other .5ers who gather for the celebration, but her perspective on her own academic journey might serve as a hint.

“Success is not what we always make it out to be at first,” she said. “It’s very personal. What success looks like now may change in a year. Be open to change.”

Camacho, who is especially passionate about mental health destigmatization and addiction studies, delved into neuroscience scholarship after her return to campus, serving as a research assistant for the Neurophysiology and Neuromodulation Laboratory at Brown and Rhode Island Hospital, for one study analyzing, annotating and recording emotions expressed as volunteer patients watched various films.

Separately, at Brown’s School of Public Health, she served as a research assistant at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, working on studies related to smoking cessation among individuals with HIV or affective disorders. She will return to the center in January before starting her studies at Brown’s medical school through the PLME program next summer.

In addition to her academic work at Brown, Camacho is a member of the Branch Christian Fellowship, served as financial secretary for the Latinx House, and as a peer mental health advisor. As part of the Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring program in partnership with the William D’Abate Elementary School in Providence, she designed lesson plans and taught students after school.

When it comes to faculty who helped her navigate her path at Brown, Camacho credited her first-year advisor Mercedes Domenech for suggesting she take Introduction to Neuroscience, which became a watershed moment for her. She has also been working with Patricia Cioe, an associate professor of behavioral and social science with whom she will continue to conduct research involving HIV-positive smokers.

As for that childhood dream for a career as a general practitioner, Camacho says that goal has shifted a bit — she now aims to become a neurologist or psychiatrist.

“I’m just as grateful if not more so now than when I received my acceptance letter at age 18,” Camacho said. “I took a lot of turns. But retrospectively, it led me to where I am today — a .5er, which I’m very grateful for.”

[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story named a second student speaker for the Midyear Completion Celebration, who will not in fact serve as a speaker during the event.]