By Rebecca Roybal Jones

Latinas Who Lead

Pediatrician Teresa Vigil Finds Joy in Her Patients and the Medical Students She Mentors

Years ago as a UNM School of Medicine student, Teresa A. Vigil, MD, thought she was on the path to pursue a career in oncology.

But that all changed when she began her pediatrics rotation, which then led to a residency in pediatrics in 2003.

“I felt good about going to work every day,” she recalls.

And she still does, even if her patient visits are conducted over Zoom due to COVID-19, instead of at University of New Mexico Hospital.

“One of my favorite things to do is have a conversation with a kid,” says Vigil, adding that it also gives her an excuse to keep up with the latest comic books and Marvel characters.


These days, she asks her young patients how they’re doing. Are they sleeping OK? “‘How are you doing since you can’t see your friends at school?’ I talk to families and kids about (the pandemic),” she says.

A professor in the UNM Department of Pediatrics, Vigil completed her residency at UNM in 2006 and continued on as chief resident from 2006-2007. She has been in Pediatrics ever since, becoming a full professor last year. She’s also the assistant dean of medical students in the Office of Medical Student Affairs, and has held the role since 2016.

Around the UNM Health Sciences campus, Teresa A. Vigil (pronounced Teh-DEH-sa) is known affectionately by her colleagues and students as “TV.” “It distinguishes me from other people,” she says. “Just call me TV.”

Vigil grew up in Las Vegas, N.M., and comes from a family with a long history in the state. She credits her close-knit family as being her inspiration. Her mother was a first-grade teacher and her father was a professor of political science at New Mexico Highlands University. 

“I wouldn’t be anywhere without my parents,” she says. “They always encouraged me to do exactly what I wanted to do. That thinking and encouragement got me here.” 

Before applying to medical school, she earned her undergraduate degree in biology at UNM and worked at TriCore Reference Laboratories at UNM Hospital for a couple of years. She began medical school in 1999.

“I was convinced that I was going to do medical oncology,” she says. “I had an uncle who had a brain tumor, and that’s probably where it (my interest in medicine) started. I loved hematology and oncology. In my third year, I gravitated to patients with cancer. But when I got to pediatrics, I felt like I was home.”

She decided to pursue the chief residency so that she could learn about administrative roles. “I felt like I could handle things pretty well,” Vigil says. “It just felt right that I could use the organizational skills that I was born with.”

Mentoring medical students is a big part of the job. Vigil draws on her own experiences of being mentored. “I really, really try to listen to what they want to do before I make a decision on how to help them,” she says.

“I just try to remember they’re unique. I ask them, ‘What’s your background? What have you done? What are your experiences?’ I can get an idea of where they want to go. I’m not there to influence them. I’m there to keep them on track for something they want to do.”

In 2014, Vigil transitioned to working with medical students as the Assistant Dean of Medical Students in the Office of Medical Student Affairs, a role that she loves.

“I get to act like a shepherd, nudging students where they should go,” she says. But, she adds, “I’m not like a person shepherd.”

Vigil describes herself as being more like a German shepherd. “I use that analogy,” she says. “I’m actually nipping at their toes and nudging them with my nose.”

She loves watching the “incredible metamorphosis” students go through. “In their fourth year, they’re physicians," she says. "They come in wanting to take care of people, and they walk out of here ready to care for them.”


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