Member of the Month: Natalia Gutierrez, MD
International medical graduate cares for the underserved
Natalia Gutierrez, MD, was born and raised in Colombia by parents both in the medical field. Her mother, a dentist, and her father, a general practitioner, greatly impacted her decision to become a physician.
After graduating from medical school, Gutierrez completed her required social service in a rural “red zone,” an area with the possibility of violence. She says it was a great fit for her to begin her medical career, and her love for rural family medicine stuck. She is now working in Carrollton, Texas, at Jose Burbano, MD, and Associates, part of the Texas Health Physicians Group. She has also served as volunteer faculty at Southwestern and Texas A&M in hopes of showing medical students the joy in family medicine.
Why did you choose family medicine, and what’s your favorite aspect of it? Were you inspired by anyone?
In medical school the outpatient training was not extensive. During my social service, I was doing five days of outpatient services, and shifts ever four days that included covering the ER, OB, pediatrics, and internal medicine floors. It was a rural hospital with very little resources and about 50 beds. But I fell in love with my work. I did not have the resources found in larger metropolitan hospitals, so you learned to work with what you have. I became one of the town’s doctors. I would transport patients serving as the ventilator while fighting my own car sickness, praying for safety. I became involved in the town, attending church, shopping at the farmers market, and seeing patients in their homes. It was then I knew I wanted to become a family physician.
During the time I was doing my social service, my mother and sister relocated to the United States. I was very close to them and wanted to follow them. After completing my social service, I started working, studying, and applying for residency in the U.S.
I was very lucky and got my first choice, UT Southwestern. My family had settled in Dallas so I was extremely happy. I started my residency in July 2005. As I was learning and having good experiences as a resident, I began being mentored by Dr. Nora Gimpel. She led the way in community medicine in a manner similar to how I practiced in Colombia. I did not have any formal training but after residency did my fellowship in this area and received a certificate in public health.
Since that time, I have been working mainly with the underserved community. When I was in training in Parkland, the hospital predominantly serving Dallas County, I always thought that those patients struggled a lot and didn’t have enough resources. I was wrong! Those patients had Parkland. In Collin County, just north of Dallas County, there is virtually no assistance available for the patients. I felt as if I was practicing rural medicine again even in this metropolitan area.
I have been on a very blessed and beautiful journey and wouldn’t change anything that I experienced. I am now changing gears and going into private practice. I know it will feel strange at first to be able to refer and call upon consultants! But as my mother has taught me, “help is needed everywhere.”
It is important for me to be a member of AAFP and TAFP because:
AAFP and TAFP offer incredible resources that are easily accessible and at the same time advocate and move forward toward the future of family medicine. There are numerous CME courses across the country but I like the ones provided by our organization. At these courses, family doctors present topics that are beneficial and matter to us in our daily practice.
What is the most interesting/memorable experience you have had when dealing with a patient?
There are two experiences that come immediately to mind.
I was doing my OB rotation during my last year as a medical student, this is your sixth year, and the responsibility in Colombia is almost the same as an intern here in the U.S. I was in a small hospital at the south side of Bogota, similar to Chicago’s Southside, and a woman came in already in labor. Her NST was not reassuring, so we did a sonogram and the baby had gastroschisis. The attending physician decided to send me in the ambulance to a hospital on the north side that had a NICU. The woman was approximately six centimeters dilated and the trip took about 30 minutes. I was by myself with an OB kit. The woman kept saying she felt that she had to push and I could see the baby crowning. I kept closing her legs, telling her to breathe. When we got to the receiving hospital’s entrance, we hit a speed bump and the baby came flying out! Luckily, I caught him, wrapped him, and cut the cord. I ran inside to the NICU with the baby and then ran back out to assist the mother.
Before I started residency training, I worked as a medical assistant for a general practitioner. There was a very nice family with three children that we saw. The youngest was a preemie just a few months old, a 7-year-old girl with a diagnosis of DM, and the oldest brother who was about 10. After fellowship when I got my first job, that same family came to see me and youngest was now six and thriving. It was nice to have that family remember me.
What one sentence advice would you give a new family physician?
You will never be bored; you have been blessed with a profession that from door to door will make you encounter different conditions and social situations.
What do you do with your free time/what are your hobbies?
I spend as much time as I can with my family. I am blessed with a loving husband and two beautiful girls, five months and two and a half years. My mother and sister and their families also live close by so I am able to spend time with extended family as well.
I am also a triathlete. I have not returned to cycling since my second pregnancy but I continue to swim and run. I am currently training for a half marathon with my friends. If you had asked me a few years ago if I considered myself an athlete or even a runner, I would have laughed. I would have replied I would only run if I was escaping danger. But now I find myself as an athlete, and I hope an example to not only my family and friends but patients as well. Never say never. Things change!
Tell me something fun (unrelated to medicine) about yourself.
I was a Boy Scout! I did not know that in North America, girls were not in Boy Scouts. In Colombia, I had not heard of Girl Scouts. I attended an all-girl Catholic school and our troop was only girls, we did interact with other troops that were mixed. I believe that that experience helped to get me out of my shell and learn about all types of people. I also was able to participate with my Dad. I think he may have enjoyed it more than I did. He loved the parent meetings and planning trips. One good thing is I never had to sell cookies!
TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month or if you’d like to tell your own story, nominate yourself or your colleague by contacting TAFP by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (512) 329-8666. View past Members of the Month here.