For Madonna Romaya, MD, the path to physicianhood has led from San Diego to the Caribbean island of Antigua and now to Humboldt County. But it all began in Baghdad. Romaya spent the first 12 years of her life in Iraq where positive experiences with family doctors shaped her answer to childhood’s most common question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

“In my heart I just always wanted to be a doctor—to help people,” said Romaya. “I feel like being a physician is the greatest calling because you’re treating people at their most vulnerable.”

But, when her family first moved to the U.S. and settled just east of San Diego in Spring Valley, their circumstances interfered with her dream. To help her parents support a family that included her two younger siblings, Romaya entered the workforce early. During her high school and college years, she helped out at her father’s car lot. She still volunteered at local hospitals as well, to nurture her unwavering love of medicine. But attending medical school after college wasn’t financially prudent. Instead, she worked for nearly a decade—first in the travel industry and later as an administrative assistant to a Lutheran pastor.

“I knew that was not what I was supposed to do for the next 20 years,” said Romaya. “I was not fulfilled.” In the meantime, her younger sister had become an attorney and her brother a professor. The family was doing well, and in that success she saw an opportunity to revisit her dream.

The first step for Romaya was enrolling in the American University of Antigua College of Medicine. She fell in love with her course work, and medical school reaffirmed her desire to practice as a family medicine doctor. The only remaining question was where.

While Romaya loves travelling and experiencing life in foreign places, she wanted to return to California. So when a friend told her that a new residency program was opening up here, she looked into Open Door right away. Impressed by what she read, she applied and visited for an interview. “I loved everything about it: the area, the program itself, and the faculty,” Romaya said. She left the interview feeling that her values aligned with Open Door’s, but it was still several months before she received notice of an official match.

“I told my mom to open the email for me because I couldn’t do it,” said Romaya, recalling the anticipation on Match Day. The good news sparked a symphony of excited screams and joyful cries. “It’s such an amazing bonus to be here in my home state.”

Aside from our Family Medicine Residency being new, which Romaya believes will allow her to grow with the program, she appreciates its longitudinal design. This innovative approach to specialty training splits the traditionally month-long rotations into four separate weeks, spacing out exposure. “If you have questions you can come back and ask them,” she said. “It’s very conducive to learning.”

Romaya is eager to form social ties within our community, and she’s a bike purchase away from hitting the nearby trails in her time away from work. But, having grown up in the bustling metropolises of Baghdad and San Diego, Romaya is still adjusting to life in the smaller city of Eureka—complete with its pros and cons. “The traffic is nonexistent here,” she said with a laugh. “That’s a big plus.”

But soon after Romaya arrived here, one of the challenges of rural life became clear. While searching for a local doctor of her own, she discovered that many of Humboldt’s physicians were at capacity and unable to accept new patients. Through firsthand experience, she realized just how badly Humboldt County needs doctors. “That’s why I’m honored to be here honestly,” Romaya said. “I’m definitely ready to help.”

Open Door is thrilled to have Romaya on board as we address the North Coast’s provider shortage and increase access to high quality health care for our underserved population.