GALVESTON, Texas – Regardless of whether the 200 graduates of the school of medicine at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston end up working in a modern facility or one with just basic equipment,  this year’s commencement speaker will have some good advice. 

Dr. Juan Ramon Ortega-Barnett, a UTMB neurosurgeon and assistant professor in the department of surgery, will address the 2017 class at this year’s commencement beginning at 10 a.m., 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.”

When Ortega-Barnett began his time working with the Tarahumara he said his greatest challenge was the fact he was fresh out of medical school and suddenly had all of the responsibility of being a doctor in their community.

“I learned a lot that year and will be talking about this during my speech,” Ortega-Barnett said.  “I find it a tremendous honor to have been elected as the keynote speaker for this year’s commencement.”

Commencement will also include the announcement of the Gold-Headed Cane Award winner, a member of the graduating class who is selected by his or her peers.

The 2017 Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumni Award winners will also be announced at commencement. 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.  Smith 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.