From Migrant Worker to Neurosurgeon

There is an incredibly interesting and moving first-person article in the current New England Journal of Medicine. It’s called “Terra Firma — A Journey from Migrant Farm Labor to Neurosurgery,” by Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, who is the director of the brain-tumor stem-cell laboratory at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico in the mid-1980’s, as a teenage migrant worker who didn’t speak English. Through a long series of hard jobs, accidents, inspiration, and mentorship, he wound up attending Berkeley and then Harvard Medical School. It isn’t a long article; go read it, now.

Even though it is pretty much a fool’s game to make predictions, I will go ahead and make a couple here:

1. Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa’s story will be invoked in the current Presidential campaign by a candidate — or many candidates? — arguing for immigration reform. And don’t be surprised to see him attend a State of the Union address someday as a special guest, invited by the President.

2. If it hasn’t happened already, Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa will get calls from book publishers begging him to put his story between hard covers. If his brief NEJM account is at all indicative of the book he would write, I surely hope he accepts.


this story is inspirational, but it also is a sad example of brain drain- the doc has decided not to return to the motherland, and many of these stories show immigrants unfulfilled if they move back home- imagine mexicans reading this story and feeling ambivalent about their own home!- this story is not only a call to realize the good that immigrants contribute to our country, but a call for more economic justice in Mexico to abate the viscious cycle of brain drain


Awesome story! Good for him! ...and bad for Mexico. Yet another example of the brain-drain, which doesn't bode well for the future of that beautiful, but sad country. And it still doesn't change the fact that he came here illegally. We need to be careful not to excuse rule breaking with good intentions, or, in this case, a beneficial outcome. The rules are in place so everyone has the same shot. And being consistent with that is as fair as we can hope to be. ...also, weirdly, this article argues the same point as many anti-choice abortion activists. Which is "careful, because you just might be killing the next Albert Einstein?!


Fantastic, great for him. Sometime's fate shows up and deals a good hand. Now will this be great for America when our land is swarmed with illegal aliens who are ignorant of our customs, our language, and our lifestyle. Adapt and overcome, which the good Dr. obviously did and succeeded. There are no right or wrong answers. Sure it would be great to offer an opportunity to everyone, but if it's so great here, why don't other countries start mimicking us. Why didn't the good DR. go back home to help his fellow man. He enjoys the fruit of his success...Now one person does become successful b/c of his chances. Compare that to the thousands in prison, the uneducated, the poor, the ones who are suckling our economy into the ground. Let everyone come here to America and destroy us.


This is yet another example that in order to really succeed in America, you HAVE to speak English. Ok, now I'm inviting arguments about the actual nature of success, but my point stands. He knew this which is why his first step was to learn the language.

WHY WHY WHY are we so afraid of offending and hurting people if we were to make English our official language? The argument has been made that we are trying to hold them down if we do that, but what of enabling them?? Let's take the tough love approach. We want you to succeed, so therefore, we are putting these rules into place to help insure your success. Reach, stretch, dream... and we'll help you get there, but you have to play by the rules... this is our house after all.


My own grandparents were the sort of Mexican immigrants that give the haters apoplexy: small, dark, illiterate peasants from rural Mexico. They were migrant workers, and never learned to speak English. They worked harder than most of us can imagine and sacrificed to make sure their children never missed a day of school. Two of their sons became college and university deans here in California.

Great article -- thanks for the link.


To Sheila #4: I'm trying to understand the connection between 1) "English Only" laws and 2) helping non-native speakers to, as you put it, "succeed in America." If you look again at Dr. Quiñones-Hinojosa's article, you will see that learned English in two steps. First, he took night jobs to save money. Second, he used this money to go to community college. That's all it took! No one had to step in to stop him from speaking Spanish!

I can understand how money for scholarships and english-education classes for non-native speakers would have helped someone like Quiñones-Hinojosa, who, when he was almost killed working for the railroad, no doubt called out for help in Spanish. But "Official English" seems concerned only with shutting people like Quiñones-Hinojosa up. What makes you think that discouraging people from speaking their families' language will encourage them to learn yours?

Matt Birchall

Hats off for Alfredo! He should be rightly proud of his achievements.
There are two (or more) losers in the game. Firstly his compatriots in Mexico do not benefit from his achievement. Mexico is, as a result a poorer place and the difference between the US and its neighbour has been accentuated. Anyone for a discussion on the causes of international tension (and terrorism)?
The second losers are the poor of the urban districts in US cities. The US has benefited from Alfredo's efforts and has been spared the necessity of training her own poor people to do the same jobs. Necessity, the mother of invention, could have fixed the shortage of doctors but has not needed to. Anyone for a discussion of the causes of domestic tension?
I would wish Alfredo the best and encourage him, perhaps with a golden handshake, to take his skills back home. This isn't the cheapest option for the US taxpayer in the short term but perhaps could give a safer long term option.


Bruce Hayden

I wonder if the same people who complain about the low skilled high pay jobs leaving here in a downstream thread, are the same ones complaining about all the physicians we gain from around the world.

I personally think that it is fine to pay the neurosurgeon more and the factory worker less, so that we attract the former, and move the latter's industry abroad.

So, I am very happy that Dr. Quiñones-Hinojosa is doing well here and benefiting us all here.

Indeed, yes, he didn't go back to Mexico. But then, if he had, he wouldn't have had the chances he has here to save lives through stem cell research.


The reason Dr. Quiñones doesn't go back to Mexico is that in there he would not have the resources to do the research he does at John Hopkins and he would not receive the same remuneration. He helps more people all over the world being able to discover new treatements.

Also, as he said he had fallen in love with the US, probably now he has friends and has created a family in here.


Amazing! It should not matter, in the case of advanced research, where the researcher works. The results of his work should be available everywhere, free of charge, to scientists and practitioners regardless of their geographic location. The borders, their iron curtains or concrete walls, are presently supposed to keep the humans from moving from place to place, not to restrain the free movement of ideas or capital. One can only hope that, as in Europe, the border barriers to the movement of people will be eventually forced down and I do believe that this will take place within the lifetimes of the coming generation. Then it will really seize to matter where the good doctor works.


I am alive today because Dr. Quinones, Dr. Solomon and the rest of the team who removed my brain tumor had come together through this string of fantastic events. I have since visited Dr. Quinones' research facility and met his very diverse group of research assistants as they probe the genesis of cancer in the brain. Not only does Dr. Q. seek to "give back" through surgical intervention but he is striving to find or help others to find a way to intervene in the propagation of cancer in the brain. As for the politics, he is the first to say that to break the law was wrong. He has spent a great deal of effort to repair that wrong. Having seen his facility and resources in Baltimore, I understand fully why he remains here to satisfy his drive to lead the research to understanding cancer. Where else in the world would his team have such good odds to prevail?

Sonia Ramsey

macrocosmic hypocorism reattachment subperiosteal margrave undoubtedly elevatedness angiosarcoma



Yeah, well here's the story of another surgeon from Latin America, and his substandard ethics, which caused the death of American citizens in Massachusetts and Illinois.,1,5330395.story

Doctor linked to deaths at VA loses license
By Deborah L. Shelton | Tribune staff reporter
2:35 PM CDT, October 17, 2007
Article tools
E-mail Share
Digg Facebook Fark Google Newsvine Reddit Yahoo Print Single page view Reprints Reader feedback Text size: Illinois regulators today indefinitely suspended the medical license of Dr. Jose Veizaga-Mendez, a surgeon linked to deaths at the Marion VA Medical Center.

The suspension was part of a negotiated settlement approved by the Illinois Medical Disciplinary Board and signed this morning by the director of the state Division of Professional Regulation.

Veizaga-Mendez, who began working at the Marion hospital in January 2006, voluntarily surrendered his Massachusetts medical license in July of that year after the licensing board there accused him of providing "grossly substandard care" that resulted in patient deaths and serious complications.

He resigned from the Marion VA hospital on Aug. 13, three days after one of his patients bled to death following routine gallbladder surgery. Shortly afterward, the hospital suspended in-patient surgeries, citing an unexplained increase in post-surgical deaths.

The consent order forbids Veizaga-Mendez from practicing medicine in Illinois. He can apply for restoration of his medical license only if the Massachusetts license he surrendered last year is reinstated.


Dr.Clifford Solomon

I have known Dr. Quinones since he came to Johns Hopkins. He is without a doubt one of the most brilliant and compassionate doctors. He exemplifies the best of medecine because not only is he very skilled but he cares.

C.T.Solomon, MD, FACS

Sergio Diaz

Bravo Dr Quinonez Iam proud of you.

Ogan Gurel, MD

I had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Quinones since he was a medical student at Harvard Medical School. I was a resident at that time and his intelligence, integrity and humanity impressed me from the very beginning. Bravo!


I love my tio Alfredo's story it inspirers me so much! Everyone I meet I tell them about this story becausse I'm so proud. I am 13 years old, my mom and him are cousins. I am actually doing an essay about him for my social studdies class, the assaigment is titled,"the Land of Opprotunity", that's a contest. I hope I win, mabey I can be like him one day...!


This is an aweosme story! Im happy that he became something in life and didnt give up just cause his cousin was putting him down. I was reading all the other comments and didnt understand what they were trying to say. Maybe because im just a kid or whatevr but this story is very inspirational! There are so many people out there that think they cant do something with their life or cant become something cause they are poor or whatever. Man please this man came from nothing and look what he became. Him being able to become what he did lets us see that anyone can do anything if they just set their mind to it. Ugh I love this story. I want to become some kind of surgeon not really sure what kind yet and i would say that i wouldnt be able to do it because i feel everybody thinks i am going to fail the only person that believes i can do it is my boyfriend. Yeah my dad says he believes i can do it but by the look he gave me when i told him i didnt believe him. And what i need to do is prove them wrong and show them that i will do it. And i will be successful in life just like this man did. Yeah alright i think im done here. Sorry about my story but yeah.



this is a nice and inspirational story just like ben carsons '


Gooosh!!!! say this is America ok fine.Dr.Quinoñes wooooow what an inspiration i'm 34 and just by reading his story really boost me up..Very proud of him, who knows maybe in the near future I will have the honor to meet him..And If he decided not to go to Mex, is because he wanted to help all the ill people here in the USA, what's wrong with that? Believe it or not i'm sure Dr.Quinones has enough $$$$ to retire know if he wanted to and live the good life for the rest of his life!!!!!!!. While alot of u r so concerned..As to why he did not go Mex...Everyone should be thanking him Big Times, who knows maybe one day is one of your own, whos life will depend on him:)