By: Lilianna Ruiz
Welcome to this week's blog where I had the greatest honor of interviewing Dr. Richard Ruiz! Dr. Ruiz works at Baylor Scott and White All Saints in Fort Worth, Texas as an Abdominal Transplant Surgeon. In case you were wondering, yes, he is my dad :) I feel so blessed and very grateful to have him as a role model in my life, so I thought why not share that with all of you? This interview consists of questions delving into his academia, career, and personal life. I hope by reading this blog you all will feel more comfortable and hopeful about the career path you have chosen or will choose.
A brief overview of Dr. Ruiz’s academic career:
Undergraduate: Occidental College (majored in Chemistry) ~ 1988-1992
Post Baccalaureate Program: University of California at Irvine ~ 1992-1993
Medical School: University of California at Los Angeles ~ 1993-1997
Residency: University of Southern California ~ 1997-2003
Fellowship: University of California at Los Angeles ~ 2003-2005
When Dr. Richard Ruiz was asked to describe what his job entails, he explained that it is to give people “another chance at life.” Furthermore, he states that part of his job is to perform kidney, liver, and sometimes pancreas transplants. “When [people] have organs that fail them, for example, somebody who has long-standing diabetes or high blood pressure or when their kidneys don't function,” his job is to “implant a kidney from a donor” who is either deceased or living.
Lilianna Ruiz: My next question for you is how did you know you wanted to work in the medical field and what made you choose surgery, then transplant specifically?
Dr. Richard Ruiz: I didn’t know that I wanted to go into medicine until midway through college. I loved chemistry a lot and I had a very good chemistry teacher. I did research every summer and spring break so I was very engaged in that research, but when it came time to think about what I wanted to do for a job I knew I didn’t want to be in a lab all of my life. I decided I wanted to work more with people than I did with beakers and bunsen burners. So that kind of led me to switch to a potential career in medicine. I went into medical school thinking I was going to do pediatrics, but in the first year of medical school you do gross anatomy and you have a lot of cadavers in the lab. During that anatomy class I was like you know what, this to me is super exciting, the heck with internal medicine [laughter]. So that’s when I decided I wanted to do surgery. In my second or third year of residency I got turned on to transplant and I did that because transplant was a somewhat new field at the time. It was considered a sexy and innovative field then.
I would like to emphasize that Dr. Richard Ruiz was a first-generation college student and a Latino. I feel that this is important to share because I know there are people of color who may be reading this and maybe even first-generation college students, that feel they are against the odds to achieve their dreams. Dr. Ruiz is a perfect representation that WE can do it. Knowing this information, I felt compelled to ask how his overall experience may have differed from others and this is how he responded:
Dr. Richard Ruiz: Both my parents immigrated from Peru and they both had high school educations and nothing else. Both my parents are bright, but because of social and economic reasons my mom was probably not headed anywhere past high school. So when [my mom] came here to the states with my dad she envisioned a better life for her kids. So I attribute a lot of my success to her because it doesn't take someone to have a college diploma to encourage their kids to do well in school. She was pretty hard on my sister and I in terms of what kind of grades we would get, etc. When it comes to race and ethnicity issues, because my mom came here in the 60s and saw the atrocities of the Civil Rights Movement, she would tell my sister and I “you have to be better”. It wasn't sufficient to be as good as your classmate but you have to strive to be better. She understood it would be more difficult for a person of color to succeed than a white person. That was always embedded in me. [My mom] understood that because of my color, I would have to go beyond to reach a level that might be a little easier than a person who is not of color.
Additionally, I asked Dr. Ruiz if he was ever discriminated against along his journey in school or the workplace. Fortunately, he said that because he grew up in a multicultural area of LA “it served as a better shield” than others who may have had it worse. Besides the times he would get called derogatory terms, thankfully not very frequently, he claims that there was nothing major that affected him. However, Dr. Ruiz adds that “there have certainly been times, even as a professional, that I could tell the patients I was helping at the time maybe weren’t so pleased they were being treated by a minority.” He reiterates that he can’t say that for sure but because of body language and the looks he would get, it would “be childish to say there is no racism in the 2000s.”
I believe the one thing that scares pre-health students the most is how hard it’s going to be and if we are going to be able to make it past those rough patches. Hardship is inevitable, and I think that’s why we question ourselves the most. Having this fear, I asked Dr. Ruiz when he struggled the most during his career and why. He discloses that he didn’t get into medical school coming out of undergraduate school because he didn’t do well on the MCAT. This is the reason he attended a post-baccalaureate program at UCI. “Not having gotten into med school was probably the most challenging.” Dr. Ruiz goes on to explain how most of his life, before college, he was always close to #1 in his class with plenty of awards. So going into college he was humbled by the fact that he was not always going to be #1. Yet he says it was a challenge and it changed the way he looked at things for the better.
Close to wrapping up this interview, I felt it was most fitting to ask Dr. Ruiz what he loves most about his job. In addition to that, I suggested he “rate” his overall life experience between balancing school, work, relationships, and family.
Dr. Richard Ruiz: I still love going into work just about every day. Although I still go into the same office everyday and see the same people everyday, some days can be very bland but there are certain days you don't know what’s coming your way. At about ten o'clock last night, for example, I thought I was going to sleep well but then I got a call that said “hey you’re up for two kidneys and you need to put them into people.” So I spent most of the night finding people to put kidneys in that have been recovered ten hours before. Do I like to be up all night on the floor? No, but having completed the transplant and talking to their family afterwards and they’re so grateful, it’s worth it. So I still enjoy the self gratification and gratification that I provide to others and their families.
Lilianna Ruiz: If you could rate your life experience leading up to the point where you are right now, how would you rate it?
Dr. Richard Ruiz: I don’t know, I would probably say an eight or a nine.
Lilianna Ruiz: [laughter] Why?
Dr. Richard Ruiz: Because in the big picture, I chose my path. I could have been a dermatologist and worked nine to five but I didn’t want to do that. I chose my path going into surgery to work long and unpredictable hours. At the end of the day I enjoy what I do and I have been able to provide very well for the loved ones in my life as a result. I grew up in lower class America and I am now living a life in being the opposite. I am fulfilling the American Dream my mom set out for us to have.
After such a heart-felt message from Dr. Ruiz, I finally asked the question that most of you want to know. I asked him what his biggest piece of advice would be for undergraduate students on a pre-med track. In summary, Dr. Ruiz says that college is supposed to be a fun time for people, but also a time to study hard. There is a great opportunity to create relationships and make long-term friendships. He says that there is a “time for play and a time to study hard.” It’s important to know what you enjoy and what you are good at so that you can focus your energy on those classes. Dr. Ruiz says that it is important you don’t take classes that you think are “not going to serve you in your career.” Overall, I believe that Dr. Ruiz is saying to do what makes you happy.
Lilianna Ruiz: Last but not least, the final question of this interview. It’s a big question... Was it all worth it?
Dr. Richard Ruiz: For me, yes. It’s a very simple answer for me.
Lilianna Ruiz: Why?
Dr. Richard Ruiz: I feel that we all have decisions to make and I made the right decisions at each point. I really took into account what makes me happy. At the end of the day, I am happy with my professional life and my personal life as well. It was worth the hours of studying and the all nighters in college, it was worth all of that.
After concluding our interview I made sure to thank Dr. Ruiz for taking the time out of his day, not only for me but for all of you reading. Conducting this interview meant so much to me and I hope that it has made some kind of an impact on everyone else. This blog lies close to my heart, so thank you for reading. And thank you, Dad. For everything :)
- Lilianna Ruiz