Get to Know Your USMLE® Step 1 Faculty: Dr. Maria Pino

Dr. Maria Pino is Becker’s USMLE® Step 1 Pharmacology instructor and assists with authoring test questions and explanations for QMD: Advanced Question Bank. An Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Pharmacy in New York, Dr. Pino received a PhD in Pharmacology, MS in Toxicology, and BS in Pharmacy. She is continuing her research in the area of vesicant-induced skin injury, and has written several publications and presented abstracts on this work.

Join our conversation with Dr. Pino, discussing her start in medical education, her passion to transform the public perception of clinicians, and her research on the chemical weapon sulfur mustard.

Dr. Maria Pino 

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How did you decide on a career in medicine?

I always enjoyed science, even as an elementary school student! I was always wondering “why”. In high school, I was lucky to have a great Biology teacher who made the subject so exciting that I couldn’t wait to go to class every day. When we covered most of the human body, I knew I wanted to do something in the health profession.

What encouraged your pursuit of pharmacology versus any other health care profession?

I started volunteering in a Pharmacy in a hospital at 16 years old. I would stock drugs and clean up. I liked medicine, so I figured I’d try Pharmacy and become a physician afterwards. When I was doing Pharmacy, I got more interested in science and ultimately I decided to pursue Pharmacology.

How did you transition from being a pharmacist to becoming a teacher?  

I think it’s important, as a practitioner, to include the next generation. The only way to ensure that the next generation gets the same level and quality of experience is to get involved and teach. My professors nurtured and inspired me to be the best that I could be. As an instructor, I can give that back to today’s aspiring physicians and pharmacists.

How long have you been teaching?

Almost 7 years!

That’s awesome! What’s your favorite part about the job? Any memorable experiences?

I love when students say “thank you” and let me know that I really helped them. It’s good to know that people understand the value of what I do for them.

It’s really about giving back to the students! I want someone to take care of my parents and me in the future – one way that I can ensure that is to get involved in the education process.

If you teach them well, you’ll have a great doctor when it’s your turn to be taken care of.

Right! I want my family to have good clinicians.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in instructing medical students?

These students are facing so many different issues – not just with education, but also personally and maybe financially. It’s unrealistic to expect them to come into the classroom and clear all of that for the sake of my class. It’s not always easy for them to sit down and focus depending on what they’re going through. It’s a challenge for me as the instructor because I need to consider these factors when I’m teaching them the material that they need to know for the exam.

Do you think your perceptiveness to the students’ personal issues makes you unique as an instructor?

I understand what they’re going through because I had some of the same types of issues as a student. I had to work through PhD, and I remember it was very difficult. I can tell them that they can do it! It’s not going to be easy or traditional but you can get this done, especially if you maintain your focus.

Why did you choose to become an instructor for Becker Professional Education?

I’m always looking for opportunities to teach! I reached out to Becker when they were looking for someone to help with the question bank. It was a wonderful way to practice my own skills in writing test questions. As I worked more with the group, they asked me to take over lectures. That’s the part that I enjoy most!

What currently interests you most in healthcare?

It’s interesting that people have developed a mistrust for the medical community. They’re reading so much on the political front or scrolling through social media, and sometimes this gives them a negative view of healthcare as a whole. I think we need to show people the amount of work and sacrifice that healthcare providers go through, all because they really want to help people.

How do you think we could change this general perception of the healthcare community?

By being the best doctors that we can be! The only way that we can change public perception is by being confident and caring with every single patient. It’s the responsibility of the clinician to put their best foot forward and gain the patient’s trust.

Do you feel like some of that responsibility might fall on you as the instructor of future clinicians?

Yes! There are mornings where I didn’t sleep well the night before and I’m tired or dealing with personal issues, but if I come in and complain it’s really setting a bad example. I try to be as positive as possible, even when things may not be so great. We all have to learn to remember the reason why we’re getting up and coming into work. That would make the overall environment a better one.

Your research and publications definitely seem like a passion of yours. Can you tell us more about this project?

My current research is an extension of my PhD research. We were looking for protectants against sulfur mustard, which is a chemical weapon. Obviously, we couldn’t get the sulfur mustard since we’re in such a small lab, but we use chemotherapy drugs to mimic the toxicity. In my project, I tested this compound with eight protectants that have a proposed antioxidant mechanism and they showed protection. I was able to get my research published on the four compounds that were protected. We’re now extending this into the animal model by using the skin of a mouse. I also look at slides and score for edema and for inflammation. This is what we’re working to publish – and it’s coming along!