Chad Vigil (C’20) is going to be a doctor. He’s graduating from Penn with a degree in neuroscience and a minor in chemistry, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a medical professional quite yet.
“I’ve always been the go–to health person,” Chad says. “One of my roommates would say, ‘Chad, you’re premed, right?’ and then ask me some really obscure question about health, like ‘What happens if I eat seventeen hoagies today? What will actually happen to me?’”
Even if he’s not entirely sure what seventeen hoagies does to a person, Chad knows quite a few things. He knows how to play the saxophone. He knows where to get the best halal—style wings in Philly (America’s Best Wings, at 42nd and Chestnut), and he knows why a zebra finch produces birdsong.
When Chad first considered transferring to Penn during his freshman year at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, he was scared, but he wanted to push his limits. One of his favorite quotes resembles the following: “If you’re not scared, then you’re not seeking a chance, and if you’re not seeking a chance, what the hell are you doing?”
Chad knew what the hell he was doing. He took the leap, was accepted, and began his illustrious Penn career by joining the Penn Band.
As a middle–school student, Chad had played the alto saxophone. It wasn’t something that he continued in high school or in his first year of college, but when someone from the band handed him a flyer during NSO, Chad was intrigued.
“They were giving flyers to everyone—everyone—and saying, ‘Do you play an instrument? No? Well, here’s a flyer, you can learn.’”
The Penn Band is the ensemble that makes lots of noise at football and basketball games (and the occasional volleyball game or wrestling match). Penn Men’s Basketball star AJ Brodeur once said the band is his team’s sixth man, and Chad agrees.
“We have a presence even if there’s just twenty of us,” Chad says. “We just erupt, and you can hear us echo all over the Palestra. We’re such a force.”
Chad has been the band’s treasurer as well as its recruitment and retention chair (“I loved [band] so much, I thought ‘Everyone needs to get in on this!’”). Each year, Chad plays a leading role in the yearly Tour de Band event, during which the next generation of bandos—the band’s term for its members—are taught songs, chants, and dances that had become band tradition over the 123 years of its existence.
“I really liked being able to support that camaraderie, and that helps with building the community in the Penn Band,” Chad says. “That’s one of my favorite things about the band—the community.”
Community is something Chad values very much. As part of his commitment to the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students, he spearheaded an initiative to prepare and bring breakfast to the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, where families of children in serious medical treatment can live while their child is in the hospital. He wants to keep on volunteering to bring food to the Ronald McDonald house past graduation, when he isn’t conducting 3D–modeled cardiothoracic research at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Chad’s post–grad plans involve an eventual application to med school following his gap year at CHOP. He knows he’s going to be a doctor. It was something Chad decided on in high school, and never changed his mind.
It was at his graduation ceremony where he had the epiphany that solidified this goal. Looking out into the sea of faces in the audience, he saw his grandmother, who had been undergoing treatment for cardiac problems since Chad’s freshman year and passed shortly after his first semester of college.
“I always told people this is when I realized,” Chad says. “I started thinking, that if she hadn’t had her doctors and her healthcare professionals help her for those four years—because it was my freshman year of high school when she started getting sick—she wouldn’t have been there to watch me graduate.”
It was at that moment that things clicked. Chad had always been a STEM person, and he believes that if he has the ability to pay it forward and do what every doctor and nurse and their assistants had done for his grandmother, he would do so.
Chad is adamant. “I owe it to her, and I owe it to them.”
He is a regular volunteer at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s a constant reminder of why he wants to join medicine in the first place.
“Being in a hospital room and seeing a family reminds me of my family in a hospital room four years ago,” Chad says. “I’ll think, ‘This is why you’re doing it, Chad. No matter how terrible Orgo lab is right now, you’re doing it for this reason.’”