Member of the Month:
Claudia Aguero-Vazquez, M.D.
Rio Grande Valley educator coaches residents, patients to be their best
Claudia Aguero-Vazquez, M.D., is an attending physician at Valley Baptist Family Practice Residency Program, and a clinical assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, both in Harlingen, Texas. Before joining academia, she practiced as a solo family physician in Harlingen and as volunteer faculty with the Valley Baptist FPRP.
She holds a deep understanding of the unique challenges of patients in the Rio Grande Valley, and uses her work with the residency program to address their health needs.
Notably, Aguero-Vazquez has worked to develop and implement an educational program for girls ages 9-12 and their mothers called “All About You.” Along with volunteer female family medicine residents, she introduces the attendees to the topics of puberty, nutrition, body image, and hygiene. The environment enables “the girls and their mothers to openly ask questions that otherwise seemed to have been awkward to ask or address in their homes,” she says. “It is a great learning opportunity and it allows for dialogue between mother and daughter.”
She also actively participates in a geriatric program for second-year residents through which the residents complete a monthly reading assignment, present lectures on geriatric topics, and conduct nursing home rounds and home visits. “I think this is a great experience for the residents who may not always understand why their patient is not able to obtain their meds or keep their glucose controlled or why their depression does not improve when they are all alone,” she says.
Aguero-Vazquez says that family medicine is “her calling,” and that she would still choose the specialty if she had to choose again. “I love that every day brings something new … that just when I have heard enough about an elderly patient’s bowels, I get a well-child exam or a new OB. I love knowing a lot of different things and being able to help patients understand what they might not have understood. I love that when the patient is offered a procedure or a medication from a specialist, they will tell them, 'Okay, but I have to check with my doctor first,' and I have the opportunity to educate or reassure the patient.”
From left to right: son Michael Vazquez (14), Claudia,
daughter Nadia Vazquez (10), husband Javier Vazquez.
In her personal life, she and her athletic family—husband Javier, son Michael, and daughter Nadia—participate in volleyball, cross-country, swimming, biking, running (from 5Ks to full marathons), triathlons, and Tae Kwon Do. This past summer, her children competed in the AAU Junior Olympics in New Orleans, La., an event held annually since 1967 by the U.S. Amateur Athletic Union.
How do you champion family medicine? I don’t have to advertise or sell family practice. My goal as a family practice faculty member is to help train the best family practice physicians that we can. We feel that these are physicians who not only demonstrate integrity, who not only can address the medical issues of a patient, but who also touch on faith and spiritual health as well.
What unique challenges does your patient population present? The unique challenge in the Rio Grande Valley is the level of education and socioeconomic status among the population overall. This creates obstacles for patients in that they cannot fully rely on themselves to participate in their own care due to a lack of understanding or lack of confidence to ask questions about their health care. Also with many living paycheck to paycheck or underemployed, it is sometimes difficult for patients to adhere to a clinical plan when they are faced with the decision of paying rent versus buying the medications they need.
What is the biggest opportunity or challenge you see for the specialty as a whole over the next five years? The benefits of preventive care are finally being understood by patients, insurance plans, and policymakers. Much of health care costs goes to episodic care that in many cases could have been prevented if the resources and tools were made available to focus on prevention programs and reimbursement models that help physicians and their patients. Use of technology like EMRs and data registry models provides us huge advantages to help our patients both individually and as a population. I think that family medicine will reap the benefits from all kinds of initiatives in the next five years.
The biggest challenge to the specialty is the uncertainty that comes with reform. Medicine will evolve just like it always has. It can be stressful at times but we cannot be consumed with the politics of health care or lose sight of the fact that at the end, we are still here to serve the patients who entrust us with their very lives.
How do you define leadership? Leadership is being able to guide others, to recognize when to be in charge or when to step back. I have had the opportunity to learn what it is to be a great leader from my family practice team. I work with a great staff that allows for learning and working on your own. Leadership is learned by great examples and I hope to be able to be a strong leader whenever needed. A leader needs to be able to learn from others even if they are students or residents. A leader should be able to recognize when help is needed and to always be humble.
The most important resource I find TAFP offers me (or my residents) is: the availability of tools and activities. We use most frequently the practice management site as well as the listing for job opportunities throughout the state. I love that TAFP offers many opportunities for physicians to work on their self-assessment modules (SAMs) in order to keep up with the ABFM Maintenance of Certification.
What one-sentence advice would you give third-year residents transitioning to practice? Do all you can, jump in with all your heart, and always be willing to learn something new.
Your nominator called you a “remarkable leader, cheerleader, and coach.” Whether in athletic challenges or in the academic setting, when you see someone struggling to get over a “wall,” what is your best motivator to get him or her to persevere? I come from a coaching family and I have been known to use my “coaching voice” with my kids. My residents would probably agree that they get the occasional coach pep talk! It is the voice that says, “If you just work hard, you can do it.” It is also the voice that says, “Don’t you dare quit!”
This is not a win-at-all-costs endorsement, but instead an encouraging lesson that so much is riding on the kind of quality effort you put forth. Sometimes the outcome cannot be changed no matter the effort you give. You may not come in first or a patient may still suffer an adverse outcome despite your best effort. But never, ever let there be the possibility that the outcome fell short because of a lack of giving your best. It is that dedication to the end goal that can often mean the difference in the kind of care a patient receives.
Where is your favorite getaway? I am pretty simple and enjoy going to the movies with family or friends and eating popcorn.
What do you like to do for fun? My fun is with the family, watching my daughter play volleyball, or my son run, or watching my husband do his best swim ever in a triathlon. We all enjoy exercise and have become a triathlon family. We also do Tae Kwon Do together and enjoy the learning and strength as a family that has come from that.
What book are you currently reading? “The Grace to Race” by Sister Madonna Buder. Talk about an inspiration!
TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in QuickInfo 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, nominate the physician by sending his or her name, phone number, and e-mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org. View past Members of the Month here.