A Family Business: The Drs. Ramirez
By Catherine McCorkle
Life revolves around family for Rene Felix Perez Ramirez Jr. and Veronica Araujo Ramirez, both MDs, Class of 2009 — whether it's their three children, their extended families near Fresno or their Drexel College of Medicine family. Since they began medical school as newlyweds, their own family formed hand in hand with their medical training. Children were then part of their residency experiences. Their oldest son seems to be following in his parents' footsteps, even though he's only in elementary school.
While every new medical student must adjust to an intense course load, the rigors of a rotating schedule and, frequently, a new city, the Ramirezes' first concern was being in the same new city. The couple, who met in band camp as undergraduates at California State University, Fresno, were engaged when they applied to medical school.
"When you're pre-med, schools really don't care if you're engaged," Veronica laughs now. A couples Match, the option for medical students who want to enter residency together, isn't a possibility when applying to medical school itself.
At the time, both Rene and Veronica were interviewing at multiple schools. The College of Medicine reached out to Rene, offering him a spot in the Drexel Pathway to Medical School program, which is designed to enhance the skills of talented students from underserved groups. Rene mentioned that his fiancée was also applying to medical schools, and both were invited to interview and accepted into the Pathway program. "It was meant to be," says Rene.
The Ramirezes credit the Pathway program for their success as students, and later as physicians. It oriented them to the medical school curriculum, the faculty and Philadelphia itself. "The support was there. The guidance was there. The education obviously was there. If it wasn't for the program, medical school might have been a very different experience," Rene says. Veronica concurs. "It was a different experience for us than for students who came straight from undergraduate."
Another aspect that made medical school different for them, of course, was being newlyweds. Veronica and Rene see this as a source of strength, because they were able to be a resource to one another during a challenging time. For instance, Veronica says there was no animosity between them about the amount of time given to studying. "In many ways it strengthened our relationship," she says. "It's who we are."
A second benefit of being newly married in medical school is sharing the same schedule, Rene adds. The all-consuming studying was spent together, but the couple shared the same break and vacation times as well, making it easier to return to Fresno to see extended family. "It was a fun ride," Rene says of medical school. "I tell people all the time — I probably wouldn't do high school again. I definitely would not do college again. I don't think I'd want to do residency again. But I would do medical school again."
As graduation neared, both considered staying in the Philadelphia area for residency. Life, however, had other plans. By the end of medical school, the Ramirezes were expecting their first child. With a newborn due in July — and their families back in California — they decided to return west.
Rene Felix Perez Ramirez Jr., MD, and Veronica Araujo Ramirez, MD. Photo credit Silvia Flores.
Thanks to a successful couples Match, both were placed in the Fresno area. Veronica would do her residency in pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco, Fresno, and Rene matched at UCSF Fresno in emergency medicine.
That match, however, almost didn't happen. At the beginning of residency season, Rene was interviewing only for positions in family medicine. He had worked as an emergency department scribe for two years as an undergraduate, he explains. "I really loved emergency medicine, but I didn't want to go into it just because that was the only thing I knew. I wanted to make sure it was absolutely something that I wanted to do."
Then a moment of truth: Rene was on an away rotation in emergency medicine, and an attending asked what he intended to specialize in. When Rene replied "family medicine," the attending said, "You're not supposed to be a family doctor. You're supposed to be an emergency doctor." The other attendings and the program director agreed, and with their support, Rene started applying to residencies in emergency medicine.
Veronica had only been an intern for a few weeks when she left on maternity leave. "Coming back," she says, "I was kind of behind. So it was a steep learning curve; it was a juggling act." She credits her relationship with Rene for getting them through that time. She's also grateful to her family — especially her mother — for caring for her infant when she had 36-hour shifts, as well as to the College of Medicine for having so thoroughly prepared her.
The results speak for themselves. Both Veronica and Rene were chief residents of their respective programs. Today, Veronica is in practice with Community Medical Providers, a provider-owned medical group. She previously served on the pediatrics faculty at UCSF Fresno.
Rene is an assistant clinical professor of emergency medicine at UCSF Fresno, as well as director of the Emergency Scribe program. He gives good marks to the Drexel medical students who rotate through the emergency room at Community Regional Medical Center where he works. "I have high standards for the medical students," he says. "The Drexel students are always well prepared."
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As the son of two College of Medicine alumni, 8-year-old Andrew Ramirez (the baby who attended medical school in utero) was also well prepared when a classmate started to choke during a Valentine's party at school. Andrew noticed that her face was red and she was clutching her throat. So he performed the Heimlich maneuver and saved the second-grade girl.
When Rene heard of the rescue that afternoon, he asked Andrew how he knew what to do. Andrew reminded his dad that when the two were reading a Boy Scout magazine, a cartoon prompted a discussion of life-saving techniques. "He asked what the Heimlich maneuver was and I showed him," Rene says. "So I remember having that whole conversation with him. Obviously he remembered, because he did it that day."
Veronica and Rene also have two daughters, Samantha, 6, and Danielle, 3, who are following their older brother's example. All three say they want to be doctors "like Mommy and Daddy." The children sometimes accompany their parents on outreach visits to local junior high and high schools. The kids learn about planning, setting goals, and taking steps to achieve them. As a 4-year-old, Andrew was already telling the teenagers that he was going to go to medical school, Rene recalls, but before that he had to "take the MCAT, go to college, and do well in high school." All in good time.
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