Financial Freedom to Grow: My Story Pioneering Bariatric Surgery in Southern Texas

Bankers Healthcare Group

Too many of us take the little things in life for granted. We forget that for some people—like my patients—everyday activities are a struggle. That’s what makes weight-loss surgery a life-changing procedure.

From the beginning, I saw the profound impact bariatric surgery could have on the quality of my patients’ lives. The procedure offers several benefits that improve their overall wellbeing. 

It’s a personally satisfying profession. I saw early on that bariatric surgery was a specialization that provided a very palpable and tangible result in a short period of time. 

For example, many patients who underwent surgery were no longer diabetic. People began to enjoy the simple things in life again, and it improved quality time with their families. That’s a key reason why I chose this specialization and have continued with it for over 20 years.

If You Build It, They Will Come: My Journey Pioneering Bariatric Surgery in Brownsville, TX

I'm originally from Panama, and I wanted to choose a career where I could truly help people, so I decided to pursue medicine. To pursue better training, I finished my medical studies, and then traveled to Montreal to do my internship and residency at McGill University. 

Following my time there, I undertook a trauma and critical care fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. When I finished my training, I started practicing in that specialization in Hartford, Conn. But I found there were not many operating opportunities, as the majority of patients did not require operations. 

I then went to a place where they were exploring the viability of bariatric surgery. The program was in its infancy, and I was intrigued. I learned more about the process and started offering the procedure to my patients. We quickly realized that establishing such a specialized practice had an air of “if you build it, they will come.” 

I started to see more and more patients for bariatric surgery, to the point where I had a waiting list that was more than a year long. This is where I became enamored with the practice. I saw firsthand the life changes patients experienced as a result of the surgery. Soon after that, I started doing less work in trauma and critical care. My last 10 years in Connecticut were spent exclusively focused on bariatric surgery. 

I then came to Texas with the intention to start a bariatric practice for patients in the Brownsville and Harlingen areas. At the time, it was rare to find a physician offering that type of surgery. In fact, there were no surgeons offering weight-loss surgery in Brownsville at all. 

Since then, we have established a practice known for excellence primarily in weight-loss surgery, but also for hernia repair, gallbladder surgery, and thyroid surgery. I have personally performed over 7,000 bariatric procedures over the past 20 years.

I started my office here with just a couple of employees. Eventually, we partnered with the local hospital to develop a center for weight loss surgery. We were the first Center of Excellence accredited by the American Oncologists in this part of the Rio Grande Valley. We also received a Center of Excellence designation by the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS). That was very gratifying. We were happy and quite successful as a result. 

We went from zero surgeries to more than 150 patients every year. The process of pioneering bariatric surgery in this area of Texas has been a highly satisfying journey. 

Like Family: My Patients-First Philosophy

When I think about my work, I think about my patients. My practice is about doing more for the patient than a simple medical transaction. I’ve always tried to establish a strong doctor-patient relationship with those I serve, particularly when the patient is in the hospital. 

But when the situation becomes more complex, such as a patient who is at the end of their life, a lot of doctors simply leave many critical decisions in the hands of the patient. It can be challenging for people in compromised situations to make those decisions. As doctors, we can do whatever you want us to do. But with the limited medical knowledge the patient has, their doctors need to do more.

The way I learned how to interact with my patients was very useful and positive in building the relationship with the patient. I used to start by telling them, "Listen, with what I know in this moment, if you were my wife, my mother, my daughter, or my son, this is what I would for recommend you to do." I treat the patient with the same care and respect as if they were a member of my family. 

“Treat patients—and customers—with the same care you’d want for your own family.” -@CarlosABarbaMD

I also try to give the patient VIP treatment when they come to the office and meet my staff and me for the first time. Money is important—doctors and surgeons aren’t going to solve your health concerns for free—but I try to minimize this. Some offices make the patients return three or four times for one health concern so they can charge them three or four times. I don't think that's right. I think that, especially in this part of the country, we physicians have become very commercialized.

I did not grow up like that. I do not see medicine like that. If I wanted to be incredibly wealthy, I wouldn’t have chosen medicine as my lifelong profession. As a doctor, especially in this country, you live comfortably but you're not going to be a millionaire. Sometimes we forget about this and lose sight of the real value in serving our community through medical services.

Serving Your Community Means Investing in Your Community

I strongly believe serving your community means investing in your community. For me, that meant giving my patients the best treatment by investing in the right people, equipment, facilities. It also meant expanding the practice as demand continued to grow. Unfortunately, this all costs money. That’s when I turned to Bankers Healthcare Group (BHG), a company that specializes in loans for healthcare professionals.

I’ve worked with BHG four times since 2015, when I first looked to grow my private practice after moving to Brownsville from Connecticut. And soon enough, the first thing I wanted to do was to buy some equipment that was useful for my patients. 

Then we inevitably started to get busier and we wanted to grow, and needed to hire more people quickly. I struggle now to remember the first time I heard about BHG, but I remember that the timing was perfect. 

Serving your community means investing in your community.

I liked the fact that a loan from BHG was more attached to the business, rather than me, personally, as it wouldn’t affect my personal credit score. I loved that idea, and that’s what heavily attracted me to working with BHG.

A Business Transaction with Customer Service at Its Heart

Working with BHG mirrors how I work with my patients: It doesn’t feel like a transaction. It’s business-like, certainly, but I’ve never had anything other than great customer service.

Another thing that interested me about BHG is that it is the easiest loan for physicians to get. It was a very simple process: There wasn’t much paperwork, and very few steps to take after submitting the application. Time is of the essence because of my chosen profession. My time is limited because the life of a physician is demanding—especially if you’re busy and going to different hospitals. I simply didn’t have the time for a lengthy loan process.

Luckily for me, everything BHG required was easy and quick. This was a key differentiator: the time-saving factor and the excellent customer service. I could conduct business over the phone, which was an immediate bonus. It was a simple process, and I received the money in a short period of time.

This seamless process is what makes me return to BHG’s services time and time again—four loans, to be exact. Using the funds for debt consolidation and practice improvements has allowed us to grow from four employees to 11. We are also going to expand within Harlingen here in the Valley. The driving idea behind this expansion is to broaden our reach in the patients we can serve.

The Customer Experience Is the Patient Experience

One of my biggest initiatives at the moment is building a new ambulatory surgery center here in Brownsville. I’m working on it in partnership with a few other doctors. We needed to vet the purchase of the land, as well as our investment. 

At the time of investment, it required a significant amount of money, and I definitely did not have that much cash on hand. That could have been a major issue prohibiting my participation in the project, but BHG was able to help me by filling in the gap with a loan. BHG provided the necessary funding to get this enterprise off the ground. We started to build soon after I received the loan. 

Great business relationships show care in every interaction.

Pioneering bariatric surgery in the Rio Grande Valley area over the past 20 years has been an incredible journey. It means a lot to me that I’ve been able to rely on BHG to help fund that growth. I get the sense that BHG treats its customers with a similar philosophy that I use with my own patients: Their needs come first. When a patient or, in my case, a customer, knows that the service provider truly cares about your experience and your outcomes, it shows in every interaction. This is what helping people is truly all about.