Please, let me tell you about myself.
I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico; the eldest of two brothers. I did my undergraduate work at the main campus of the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras and received my bachelor’s degree in Science with honors in just three years. While in college, I was a student researcher and later a volunteer at the Caribbean Stranding Network, a non-profit dedicated to the rescue, care and rehabilitation of stranded marine mammals. As any student, I worked hard to help pay my tuition and expenses and studied just as hard to be able to get into medical school. I was accepted at the University of Puerto Rico, School of Medicine from which I graduated in 2004, with honors.
During my clinical years in Medical School, I helped establish and manage a senior-year medical rotation in Vieques. Vieques is a small island located east of Puerto Rico. Their community of almost ten thousand was in dire need of extra medical help because they only had two local MD's and their labs only worked limited hours a day. Vieques had been the site of decades of military testing that had recently ended (part of the island is an EPA superfund site) and its residents had more than the usual share of medical conditions. Working there for six months as a clinical volunteer changed my life. It was the kind of place where everybody knew each other, and on occasions I was surprised with fruits and other foods as simple gestures of appreciation. It was an experience that made me proud of being a doctor.
After graduating from medical school, I was accepted to the Surgical Residency Program at St. Vincent’s Hospital located in the West Village in Manhattan. I completed my Surgical Internship there. Halfway through my second year of surgical residency, St. Vincent's was in financial woes, thus forcing to close its doors and terminating our residency training program. During my two years at St. Vincent’s I learned and appreciated hard work and professional growth. I fell in love with New York City and made friendships that will last a lifetime.
Once St. Vincent’s Hospital announced its closure, we were asked to search for a Surgical Program to take us in and continue our training. Given the economic hardships that swept through the US beginning in mid-2006 many hospitals around the United States were forced to close. It was difficult to get placed right away at another teaching hospital. One of my Internal Medicine attending physicians at St. Vincent’s asked me if I would consider his Internal Medicine Program at Cabrini Medical Center a few blocks away. Since I enjoyed the internal medicine procedures I performed and had a great respect and admiration for this attending physician. I accepted his invitation with the hope of continuing into Critical Care training.
During my years at Cabrini I became immersed in the Internal Medicine Department and given my background in surgery, I co-founded what was called the Procedures Team at the hospital. I felt a need to give back because the program had accepted me with open arms half-way through training. Everyone was very understanding and helped to me learn and blend into the Internal Medicine world. The Procedure Team, was able to lower infection rates at the hospital and provide pain-free and quick basic procedures to patients in need. This helped Cabrini pass its Joint Commission reaccreditation. But as luck would have it, the recession that was engulfing the US and hitting hospitals particularly hard did not spare Cabrini, a staple in the area, and the Medical Center also had to close its doors.
With Internal Medicine options more limited than ever in New York City and the high cost of living, I decided to return to Puerto Rico and finish my remaining few months of Internal Medicine training at the San Juan City Hospital which was affiliated to the University of Puerto Rico, Medical School, my alma mater.
I completed my training in Internal Medicine on April 2009 and decided to go into solo practice for one or two years to be able to pay-down my debt. I studied for my boards using one of the most popular and respected review courses at the time, and passed them in August of that same year. A few months later, in January 2010 tragedy struck the neighboring island of Hispaniola when a devastating earthquake hit the capital city of Haiti. Officials quickly called for medical assistance and just 12 hours after the earthquake I was on a plane with 50 other doctors, nurses and technicians en route to the Dominican Republic to take a bus escorted by the military into Haiti. It was humbling sight, comparable only to war. Patients were not brought in one by one but were disembarked by the truckload from pick-ups carrying the wounded in groups of 30 to 40 patients, all crowded one on top of the other. With help of the US & Swiss military that landed just a few hours after us, we established the first temporary hospital to triage and treat the victims. We were the first responders.
I spent weeks in Haiti, reluctant to leave because of the great human need and tragedy that I faced. When I finally came back to Puerto Rico, I did so with a renewed love for medicine and threw myself into my practice. I had back to back banner years. Some of my patients made headlines with their weight loss success. I was offered health segments on local TV shows and became a very well-known physician in a short period of time. Then ABIM made it all come crashing down.
Dr. Jimmy Salas Rushford during his humanitarian mission in Haiti.