Your profile tells me you were born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, can you tell me a little about what that was like?
Yes, I was lucky enough to be raised in the Rio Grande Valley; I have watched it go through an incredible transformation since I was a child going through the local public school system. The Rio Grande Valley, unfortunately, has dealt with a perception problem; however, due to 15 years of growth, positive changes have occurred here that are now being recognized throughout the United States and the World.
What sorts of changes?
Well, the medical community has grown significantly, and that has made a palpable difference. People no longer have to travel to Houston, Austin, San Antonio, or Dallas to receive top quality care. I experienced many of those challenges first hand, with relatives that had advanced disease and needed medical care that wasn’t available here. They either didn’t get it or had to travel far to get it. That simply was not acceptable. I thought a lot about this growing up as a young child, and ultimately it was the impetus to the development of my medical career.
So this has been a mission since all the way back then?
As long as I can remember, I was always interested in medicine and science. My course has never changed, I was always meant to be a physician. Early on, I set my sights on what I wanted to do, and why I wanted to do it. I set my sights on getting there as soon as I could, but that involved years and years of sacrifice. I spent every single summer past 7th grade through all of high school at an enrichment program, a particular job or opportunities in the medical field to improve my knowledge base so I could get into medical school. I knew it was going to be difficult, especially coming from an area which had traditionally been underserved in resources compared to other metropolitan areas. But that didn’t stop me at all.
And what made you stay the course?
It was one five minute call to home with my father that reminded me of why I was there, the only reason I was there, so that nothing could sway me. It’s a conversation I’ll never forget. I was sitting on the steps of Perkins Chapel at SMU in Dallas at about Midnight. His comforting words were all I really needed. In fact, I never looked back from there and continued to improve scholastically from then on out.
So then what?
After doing well in undergraduate school, I received acceptance from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) where I did my four years of medical school. It wasn’t easy, but I gave it my all and followed through with three years of internal medicine residency training at UTMB as well. It was a long hard road – 11 to 12 years – and, obviously, a lot happens in that time. While I believe I am a driven individual, it was impossible to achieve those kinds of accolades over such an extended period of time without the help of the people who are closest to me, including my father, mother, brother and other family members. Their support during the time of transition between medical school and residency was vital; it was also then that I was lucky enough to meet my lovely, beautiful and understanding wife, Christina.
Why don’t you tell me a bit more about her?
Christina became the rock that I needed to be able to continue to grow and move forward. Most importantly, she was able to give me my biggest achievement, my two beautiful children – Christian and Gabriella. This lovely family was the force that I needed to be able to finish my education and continue to excel even after I established my private practice. After finishing residency, I could have gone anywhere in the United States. I had a lot of opportunities and great ones at that; however, my wife was instrumental to my return to the Rio Grande Valley with my family. To start fresh, new, and to build on the dream that I had since childhood. Since the day I started my private practice in August 2002, we have continued to grow, improve and facilitate the improvement of medical care in the Rio Grande Valley.
Where do you think the value lies in coming back to the community that raised you?
The value lies in really being able to affect change. You know the area well, you know its people well, and therefore you know how they’re going to react to change as you bring in new services and ideas. If one understands the language, the personality, the cultural issues — it makes one much more likely to be able to implement change. In this case, I think the Rio Grande Valley has exploded because of talent that has either remained or has been willing to make some sacrifice to come back and be patient so that the area can prosper. I think we have only begun to see the growth potential of the Rio Grande Valley as a region, and it’s up to us to see that it grows appropriately.
Why do you believe the area is so in need of change?
It’s probably because corporate America either didn’t invest in this area, or did invest in the area, but minimally. Essentially, what I mean is when corporations would come here they’d just profit off the backs of the hardworking people in this community. Luckily for the citizens of the Rio Grande Valley, there were local leaders who were visionaries, smart thinkers, and they were able to think outside the box and help us think in a regional way.
Could you expand on that?
By regional, I mean as opposed to siloed, city by city. This helped in particular because we needed to show strength as a region, in order to pool together the money and resources that were, unfortunately, very scarce south of San Antonio. These strong thinkers, which included people like my father and other local businesspeople, started to believe in themselves and what they were doing for the community. After all, who knew the community better? Who was more responsive to the community? Who met people day in and day out? It was the local people. Because of that, we were able to grow and secure more and more resources. Our job as leaders also is to show children and citizens of the region that we can do a better job than most people from out of the area. And this isn’t just in health care. It could be in any other industry: farming, banking, education. All of these areas seemed to grow because we were able to believe in ourselves, teach our children to believe in themselves, and develop a great work ethic.
Fortunately, the Valley has never had a problem coming up with people who want and are willing to work hard to make a living. We’ve been very fortunate in that sense. There’s a strong community and plenty of community members who want to do it themselves. We’ve already started to see the benefits, and will continue to as long as we can show our citizens why it’s essential to think large as one big group.
So let’s get back to Dr. Martinez. How did you get to where you are today?
After about ten years of private practice, both in the clinic and in the hospital, I was given a chance to get involved with hospital administration, and was appointed the chief of staff at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (now DHR Health). It was a tremendous opportunity, not just because the hospital was growing at a rapid pace, but because of its goal of fulfilling the same vision that I had, which was providing world-class health care, right here in the Rio Grande Valley. This is so that our citizens wouldn’t have to travel, especially if they couldn’t, to get that same care they’d expect up north.
Throughout the years, I climbed the ranks and became a physician executive, as well as chief medical officer, and senior executive vice president of DHR Health. That is where we are today. I’ve been in my position for approximately 5 years, and again it continues to allow me to grow in every form or fashion. But, certainly the biggest achievement is in being able to provide world-class health care to our citizens here in the Rio Grande Valley, stretching from Laredo to Brownsville, all the way up north to Falfurrias. DHR’s footprint has expanded and will continue to do so because we are willing to step into different communities and neighborhoods to provide the medical care that they need, when they need it.
And how are you going about doing this?
We have brought down medical specialists in unprecedented numbers and will continue to do so. Both for adults and children, these services will continue to expand, according to the vision of many community and board members, including mine. People ask me all the time, what is the difference between your hospital and any other corporate hospital, and it is obvious. The people making the decisions are physicians at the bedside and community leaders down the street, all with the same goal in mind: patients that can’t travel, don’t need to.
So, of course, it’s important to mention that you’re being interviewed because you were hand-picked for an incredible position.
Can you tell us a bit more about that?
I have to say that I was very honored to be chosen by Governor Greg Abbott to represent South Texas on the Texas Medical Board. I look forward to making a difference and bringing experiences from South Texas, along with good ideas to implement to bring better health care to all Texans. I hope this opportunity will further allow me to grow along with future leaders of the region and state. I encourage these future leaders, and all men or women who wish to take a similar course, to keep on keeping on; don’t let anybody tell you what you can or cannot do. You can do anything if you set your mind to it.