Caroline Le Tohic moved to Las Vegas because of her father’s cooking.
As unusual as that may sound, she’s one-of-a-kind in more ways than one.
Le Tohic, who is set to graduate from the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV in May, grew up in a rural French household where both French and Portuguese were spoken, but not English.
The UNLV alum, '17 BS Biology, moved to Las Vegas in the fifth grade without knowing a word of English. Her French chef father, Claude Le Tohic, had so wowed food critics that he received the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France award – an honor that led to his being asked to open the Joel Robuchon and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon restaurants at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He moved here with his two children and his wife, a native of Brazil who taught both her first language of Portuguese and French – and he quickly earned a three-star Michelin rating for his work at Joel Robuchon while winning a Best Chef title from the James Beard Foundation.
“That move wasn’t easy,” recalled Le Tohic, who said her early time at Alamo Elementary was often bewildering as she tried to figure out what both teachers and students were saying. “At first it was very frustrating but after a few months, with the help of ESL (English as a Second Language) classes and friends, I got the hang of basic English.”
By middle school, she had figured out the language well enough to become an honor student. Her love of science, which had begun at age 8 with a Christmas gift of a microscope, shifted into high gear. “I was a curious kid, wanting to see through a microscope what everything really looked like, from leaves to fruit.”
During her sophomore year at Sierra Vista High School she decided to become a doctor. Volunteering for two months at a hospital in her mother’s hometown of Joao Pessoa, Brazil, she saw medical professionals help children deal with leukemia while she kept other kids’ minds off their problems by playing puzzles or coloring pictures with them.
“It was a super-underserved hospital, often a heartbreaking place where toddlers to 10-year-old kids would come. Sometimes you would see parents come to visit their dying children. Other times you saw a child with a simple cancer go home. It was then I knew I wanted to go into medicine and help people, perhaps as a pediatrician.”
On the night of Oct. 1, 2017, Le Tohic’s appreciation for the medical field of radiology began to form. That was the night that a gunman opened fire with automatic weapons on the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Strip, killing 60 people, wounding 411, and leading to hundreds more injuries in the chaotic aftermath.
Le Tohic then was working as a scribe in the Sunrise Hospital emergency room. Her primary duties were to follow a physician through his or her workday and chart patient encounters in real time, using a medical office’s electronic health record. By handling data management tasks for physicians, she freed the doctor to increase patient contact time and give more thought to complex cases, while also enabling better patient flow through the department.
That first day of October had been routine until about 10 p.m., she recalled in a Rebecca Keel Memorial Scholarship-winning essay in a competition sponsored by the Texas Ace Foundation. “That night, our ER received over 180 patients in the span of two short hours, all of them having sustained gunshot wounds to various parts of their bodies. There was blood on the floor and on the walls. Some people screamed and cried while others simply sat still with a blank look on their faces. As scribes, we are not trained to treat any patients. This feeling of helplessness was a terrifying sensation that went in opposition with our instinct to help others.”
Recently, Le Tohic told of how she volunteered to take action, working with radiology technologists to triage ER patients who needed imaging. “We improvised by drawing with permanent markers on patients’ foreheads as it was near impossible to keep up with the volume of patients. It was here that I saw first-hand how essential imaging was. Trauma surgeons relied on detailed CT (computerized tomography) to work efficiently as patients were continuously wheeled in and out of operating rooms, while emergency physicians looked to plain films to quickly identify the extent of shrapnel injuries. Without being physically present, radiologists working that night efficiently guided the care of hundreds of patients and were able to touch many lives. It was humbling to have witnessed this firsthand.”
Today, Le Tohic, grateful for scholarships she received from the Engelstad Family Foundation and the Texas Ace Foundation, is awaiting Match Day in March to see where she’ll do her specialty training in radiology.
The radiology route
“Throughout my clinical years of medical school, I finally confirmed that radiology was the right field for me as it perfectly combined my interests with my skills," said Le Tohic, a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the nation’s only national honor medical society. "Radiology is one of the few specialities in medicine that encompasses all aspects of the human body and requires a detailed understanding of pathology, physiology, and anatomy. This allows for constant intellectual stimulation and day-to-day variation. Another aspect of radiology that drew me in is the ability to interact with a wide range of providers. Radiologists have the opportunity to participate in the care of hundreds of patients daily.”
How does Le Tohic, just weeks from a March marriage to emergency physician Marko Zegarac, view a career that will see her responsible for the lives of others?
“It is an immense privilege that I do not take lightly.”