Regardless of whether the 225 graduates of UTMB’s School of Medicine end up working in a modern facility or one with just basic equipment, this year’s commencement speaker had some good advice.
Dr. Juan Ramon Ortega-Barnett, a UTMB neurosurgeon and assistant professor in the Department of Surgery, addressed the 2017 class at this year’s commencement on June 3 at the Moody Gardens Convention Center in Galveston.
After completing his medical training, Ortega-Barnett lived for a year on a reservation in the remote northern mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico, as the doctor for the Tarahumara people. Living with only necessities and no communication with the outside world, he learned to practice medicine with very simple supplies.
“I would definitely recommend every graduate or student, if given the opportunity, to go and experience working as a doctor in an underserved area,” said Ortega-Barnett. “From my time with the Tarahumara, who are lovely people, I learned how to appreciate things that we take for granted, such as hot running water, a place to bathe, wash clothes, but above all I learned to appreciate things that really matter in life, like family and friends.”
In his speech, Ortega-Barnett told graduates that persistence and hard work are worth it to be able to do what you love. After earning his medical degree and completing a neurosurgery residency in Mexico, he came to the U.S. Unfortunately, residency and specialty training conducted abroad are not recognized in this country, so Ortega-Barnett completed two additional residencies and a fellowship before becoming double boarded in neurosurgery. In all, he spent more than two decades training.
“Dream big, discover your passion, set your mind on a goal and work hard at it. Dreams do come true. Remember that where there is a will there is a way and you will reap what you sow,” he said.
Dr. Anita Mercado, associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, carried the ceremonial mace during the commencement ceremonies. The mace-bearing tradition dates back to medieval times, when a mace-bearer would walk ahead to ensure safe passage of the leader of a cathedral, kingdom or university.
The ceremony also included the announcement of several awards, including the introduction of this year’s Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumni Award winners: Drs. Milton L. Routt, Jr.; R. Bruce Shack; Ned Snyder III; Robert H. Squires, Jr.; and James R. Winn. The award is the highest alumni honor bestowed by the university’s School of Medicine Alumni Association and recognizes outstanding service to the medical profession and to humanity.
The award honors the memory of Dr. Ashbel Smith, who arrived in Texas in 1837 and was instrumental in forming the Texas Medical Association. He was also a driving force behind the formation of UTMB in 1891.