This year’s San Antonio Business Journal 40 Under 40 Man of the Year title was awarded to a long time friend of mine, Dr. Ray Altamirano. This is one of the most down to earth, passionate and altruistic individuals I know. He has recently been on the Kelly Clarkson Show and the Doctors TV show and has a very interesting background. He had a unique path to becoming a medical doctor and now has a unique style of practice incorporating art and family medicine to assist his underserved community including undocumented immigrants. Check out our interview with him.
Diverse Medicine: So tell us a little about yourself.
Dr. Altamirano: I am Ray Altamirano MD, first generation American born and raised in San Antonio, TX by Mexican immigrant parents. I am a board-certified family medicine physician practicing in ER as well as my own clinic as a fee-for-service practice for the uninsured.
Diverse Medicine: What did it take to become a family medicine doctor?
Dr. Altamirano: I applied for medical school twice in Texas and interviewed with multiple schools only to be wait-listed, twice. I attended medical school in Mexico at Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara (UAG) and completed the 5th Pathway Program to practice in the USA
Diverse Medicine: How was your experience attending medical school at UAG?
Dr. Altamirano: Uphill battle. School was in a foreign country with their own set of rules. Abide or get nowhere. It molded me to be headstrong and gritty.
Diverse Medicine: So, you practice a very interesting type of medicine. Can you tell us a little about it?
Dr. Altamirano: I left primary care after 3 years to pursue higher-paying roles such as hospitalist work and eventually ER. Financially, I felt comfortable, but there was a hole in my heart to practice in my community with the underserved. I founded my clinic not because I needed the job, but I needed peace for my soul. I needed to fulfill God’s work at the community level and start a one-man movement for better care and access for the uninsured and undocumented
Diverse Medicine: That’s amazing! What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about this type of medical practice?
Dr. Altamirano: Most challenging is definitely the pioneering of it. Healthcare for the uninsured is an abyss. There is no system. Get in where they allow you to (and can afford). The most rewarding part is the community coming through for itself. The respect and support from my community
Diverse Medicine: Do you think this type of practice will catch on?
Dr. Altamirano: Yes, I do. We did not invent the wheel. This is how healthcare was in the 1980’s. The doctor and patient with no one to get in the way. There is 100% autonomy to practice as I see fit. This freedom is bliss for an altruist. We are a very close cousin to direct primary care (DPC).
Diverse Medicine: We’ve seen you all over the place on the “Kelly Clarkson Show” and “the Doctors”. How did they find out about you?
Dr. Altamirano: They “discovered” me through local news mediums and social media. Adam King with KABB in San Antonio aired a story on my efforts and the Kelly Clarkson Show producers saw my piece on a Seattle affiliate. Seattle? I know.
Diverse Medicine: This is super cool. I love your artwork by the way. Make sure ya’ll check it out. What inspires you to paint?
Dr. Altamirano: The content of my art has very little to do with my emotions at the time I create it. I usually draw from past-time nostalgia. Usually, things that are light-hearted and make me laugh. My art is called Amar Es Vivir: To Love is to Live. I like vivid colors and am generally flattered when other’s like my work, but each project is process over product. Whatever I was feeling in those times is on canvas to stay and off my shoulders.
Diverse Medicine: What have you learned working with the patient population you work with?
Dr. Altamirano: I learned that connecting on the human level ALWAYS works. Treat people like family and they respond with their best effort. The coolest experience has nothing to do with the exam room and much more to do with the lobby. I witnessed a man (who could barely afford his own $100 visit) pay for a complete stranger in the lobby because he felt compelled to do so after meeting me. That’s the true spirit of my clinic.
Diverse Medicine: Do you feel diversity is important in medicine and why?
Dr. Altamirano: Diversity is America. Cultural understanding is very important when connecting with people who are already afraid of the circumstance. If the patient relates to you before you even speak, you already started the process on an unspoken level. The rest is passive.
Diverse Medicine: Do you have recommendations for our premedical students, medical students and residents on Diverse Medicine?
Dr. Altamirano: No matter how you think others see you, you are just as important and entitled to seek your passions. I had to go to another country to prove it to myself. There will always be an obstacle: money, uneven playing fields, skin color, that accent you didn’t know you have…but when you recognize that steam engine of grit inside you, there’s no greater power.
Pretty cool huh? If you have any questions for Dr. Altamirano feel free to ask in the comment section.
Are you a premed? Join Diverse Medicine now. It's free!