It is a privilege to celebrate and acknowledge the array of cultures of which our physicians, APPs, and MSO employees belong to as it affords us the opportunity to cultivate a diverse workplace. This month, USACS is celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month which aims to honor the culture of Hispanic and Latinx Americans and their meaningful contributions.
To celebrate, we wanted to turn the spotlight toward one of our Hispanic physicians, Javier Morales, DO, FACOEP, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Dr. Morales has been with USACS, beginning with a legacy company, since 2011 and currently practices at Ascension Genesys Hospital in Grand Blanc, MI. This happens to be a USACS residency location which provides Dr. Morales with the ability to serve as a faculty member for our residents. He has been serving as a faculty member since 2001 and finds the work to be extraordinarily rewarding.
“My passion is teaching residents and supporting them through the ups and downs of completing their residency program,” shared Dr. Morales. “The reason I love teaching is because I was fortunate to be mentored by several individuals who helped me excel, so I hope to do the same for others.”
Although Dr. Morales is passionate about his life’s work, the path he landed on wasn’t the path he initially planned to pursue as he made his way to the states after high school. Recruited to play baseball at Greenville University in Greenville, IL, Dr. Morales had every intention of becoming a professional baseball player until he began his second year of college. At that time, Dr. Morales he met his now wife of 32 years, an emergency physician herself, who was on a pre-med track. His wife’s academic path inspired him to change his own academic plans and he was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
“At the time, I had just met my now wife and I wanted to take classes with her so I could get to know her better,” laughed Dr. Morales. “I ended up doing well in the courses and found the content to be interesting, so I made the choice to stay on the pre-med track.”
Dr. Morales didn’t find success just in the classroom, he also found success on the baseball diamond. As a four-year student-athlete, he was drafted by the Major League Baseball (MLB) organization his junior and senior years but elected to continue his journey to medical school.
“Making the choice to go to medical school instead of becoming a professional baseball player was easier than I had anticipated,” said Dr. Morales. “My father is a retired attorney, and my parents always emphasized the importance of education, so the change just felt right. And, after all, as we say in Puerto Rico, ‘Once a baseball player, always a baseball player,’ so I knew the sport would always hold a special place in my heart even if I chose a different career path.”
The choice to attend medical school might have been easy, but the journey of getting to that milestone had its fair share of obstacles. When Dr. Morales first arrived in Illinois, he knew very little English and felt a deep sense of loneliness during his first several months of college. Given the language and cultural barriers Dr. Morales had to overcome, there were many times when he felt like giving up.
“I was very lonely during my first semester of college, and I desperately wanted to go home,” reflected Dr. Morales. “I’ll never forget the phone conversation I had with my mom during that time because she reminded me of the commitment I made and encouraged me to never give up. It was exactly what I needed to hear, and, to this day, I keep that conversation fresh in my mind.”
Through his dedication and ambitious spirit, Dr. Morales found several tactics to enhance his learning and leaned on his network of support to achieve his goals. Music helped him improve his English, his five Puerto Rican classmates helped him study and brought him a sense of home, and his textbooks became his lifeline, always in tow wherever he went. All his efforts paid off and paved the way to his successful career as an emergency physician.
When it comes to celebrating his Hispanic heritage in his career, Dr. Morales leans into his cultural roots and uses his lived experiences of being a minority physician to encourage all his residents, regardless of their background.
“Just like my mother taught me to never give up, I share the same sentiment with my residents,” said Dr. Morales. “I tell them there are going to be a lot of ups and downs, but it is in those difficult moments when you learn the most. It’s a tough road but the light at the end of the tunnel is bright and you have to enjoy the journey.”
Furthermore, Dr. Morales was recently asked to attend a USACS recruiting event in Puerto Rico where he had the opportunity to give a presentation to over 25 residents from the University of Puerto Rico. This was a special moment for him as he felt a deep sense of connection being back in the place he called home during his childhood. Though the presentation was in English, he found himself using Spanish and sometimes even a little “Spanglish” since he knew the residents would be able to understand. Being able to share his story and experiences was an honor and he hopes to have the opportunity again in the future so he can help connect USACS with more Hispanic physicians.
After this full-circle moment of returning to his former home and reflecting on his life’s journey thus far, Dr. Morales expressed a deep sense pride in his Hispanic heritage.
“There is something about being Hispanic that just clicks when you see or interact with another Hispanic person. We have a rich culture and even though Hispanics are very diverse, there is a sense of unity between us all. There are three things always emphasized in our culture: family, food, and music. Those are the foundation of who we are, and I am so proud to be a part of the Hispanic community!”