Student Spotlight: Yesel Trillo-Ordonez MS’GH’25

After overcoming the odds and many obstacles, Trillo-Ordonez is on track toward her dream of becoming a doctor.

Yesel Trillo-Ordonez

By Joan Kimani

Published May 2, 2024, last updated on May 13, 2024 under Student Stories

For Yesel Trillo-Ordonez, the path into global health and medicine has been deeply influenced by her own experiences with disease, loss and caregiving. 

Trillo-Ordonez, who is finishing her first year in the Duke Master of Science in Global Health program, contracted tuberculosis as a child in Chihuahua, Mexico, an experience that taught her about the complexities of medical treatment.  She recalls the difficulty of taking medication as a child, which often had to be concealed in food.

A more tragic lesson came in 2018, when she lost her sister to complications from opioid use. This led Trillo-Ordonez to work with a community organization to develop educational materials about harm reduction. And then, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, her partner was diagnosed with cancer. As his primary caregiver, Trillo-Ordonez had to navigate the obstacles of cancer treatment during a global health crisis. He recovered fully and is in good health.

These personal trials have only intensified Trillo-Ordonez’s childhood ambition to become a doctor, a dream sparked in fifth grade by an assignment that led her to images of neurosurgeons at work. “I searched into the computer what a neurosurgeon was. I saw the images of brain surgeries and I was surprised that it was actually a job,” she recalls. “At that moment, I knew that is what I wanted to do.”

She was the first in her family to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After working for a dermatology office in Maryland, she wanted to be closer to clinical experience and found work as a research assistant with the Division of Duke Global Neurosurgery and Neurology, which opened the door to pursuing her global health master’s degree. At DGHI, she is conducting research to help improve diagnosis of traumatic brain injury in Uganda.

She plans to enroll in medical school after completing her degree. But studying global health has given her the commitment to serve communities like the ones in which she grew up, which she says are too often underserved and overlooked. “I plan to continue in the same path after getting my medical degree,” she says. 

At the same time, her relentless pursuit of her dreams, overcoming the odds and obstacles, is a powerful reminder of how personal experiences can shape professional paths in profound ways. She embodies the passion and resilience that so often accompany those who are able to make a difference in global health.

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