People Physician-Scientist Residency

Q&A with Chief Resident Carla Valenzuela

photo of Valenzuela with father and sister in helicopter
Carla Valenzuela, MD (center), with father Manuel and sister Claudia taking a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon.

Carla Valenzuela, MD, MSCI, is another of our accomplished chief residents. A physician-scientist trainee, she spent two years exploring a number of clinical and basic research topics and is the recipient of The Holt Leadership Award for Residents and Fellows-in-Training offered by the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

What attracted you to WashU’s residency program?

I was drawn by WashU’s reputation as a research powerhouse with impressive surgical volume, but it wasn’t until my interview day that I realized I just had to come here. I really wanted to match into a T32 program because of my interest in becoming a surgeon scientist, and I was very impressed with the structure and success of the WashU T32 program.

photo of Valenzuela with mother and sister
Valenzuela with mother Maria del Pilar and sister Claudia in Lima, Peru.

What do you like most about being a trainee here?

I love all the surgical opportunities at WashU, but most of all I love the spirit of our department. We have incredible faculty who have mentored and supported me from day-one. 

Tell us a little about your childhood. Is that when you developed an interest in becoming a doctor?

I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, with my little sister Claudia. My parents were professors and taught at Meharry Medical College with adjunct appointments at Vanderbilt. Because they both left Peru to pursue their PhD’s, the mentality in our household was always “the sky’s the limit” and that “you should do what you love, no matter what.” I also saw how much they loved academia and their research which probably explains why I feel at home in a lab.

photo of Valenquela and husband Matthew
Valenzuela and husband Matthew Layden at a friend’s wedding.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love spending time with my husband Matthew, and our newly adopted kitten Sammie. I also love being outside surrounded by nature and catching up with my family and friends.

What television series are you most likely to get caught indulging in?

I am a devoted fan of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Matthew introduced me to the show when we first started dating, and I’ve been watching ever since. We love watching each season together to see who isn’t there for the right reasons and if the front runners are really ready for a commitment at the end of it.

photo of Valenzuela and husband
Valenzuela and Layden backstage at a music festival.

What would most surprise your colleagues to learn about you?

I love running and swimming which is why I naturally enjoy aqua jogging! I learned how to swim at the age of 5 and swam competitively for 10 years. I used to have huge shoulders because my best stroke was the 100-meter butterfly. In high school, I transitioned to running cross country and was among the top five fastest runners in the city. I think this explains why I walk so fast in the hospital; I enjoy covering a lot of ground. When I go to the pool, I like to warm-up by swimming then aqua jogging, which is basically treading water like water polo players. But, if I had to choose my favorite among those three, it would be swimming. There is nothing that I look forward to more than an early morning swim at Shaw Park in the summer!