I was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. I was one of six kids whose parents insisted on enrolling in an "all girls" Catholic School to stay out of trouble. The nuns in my high school invented new rules for me like "you can't get picked up in a motorcycle wearing your school uniform" or "you can't work three jobs and attend school full time". I was never one to completely follow the rules or stay out of trouble. If someone ever doubted my abilities, my goal would be to prove them wrong. Being a little rebellious and with a great sense of humor is how I navigate my ship and somehow I've never been lost.
Graduating from high school was typically celebrated as the pinnacle and end of our career. I was terrified when I got into college and did not know how to break the news to my parents until a week before I had to fly out. I figured that if I did not give them much time to protest, they would not stop me from leaving. I left Los Angeles to freeze my bones in Ithaca, New York, where California sweaters were never warm enough and my shoes were always too slippery. I was an oddity of sorts. I attended Cornell University and got the challenge of my life. I was not equipped to handle such an intense program but I also was not built for failure.
I received my Bachelor's degree in Microbiology and Spanish Literature. I cleaned pots and pans to pay the rent. I worked at a neurobiology lab sequencing DNA to study the neural circuit of the spiny lobster. Pablo Neruda was a hit at my poetry jam sessions and to this day, I always pictured writing beautiful fiction, the likes of Isabelle Allende and Octavio Paz. So you can imagine that when I approached my college counselor about my desire to be a doctor, she looked at me as if she had just sucked on a whole lemon. She told me I was better suited for the "arts" or "poetry". This is the first and last time I ever let anyone tell me what I could and could not do. I was heart-broken. I knew there was a great need for a spanish speaking female doctor in my community and I did not want to come back home empty-handed. I did what any respectable, prestigious, Ivy League graduate would do, I cried, and then I became a waitress for a year at a French/Italian cafe. I studied my brains off for the MCAT. I did not want to give any medical school the opportunity to reject me. I thought, if coming from Cornell wouldn't be appealing enough, then maybe a good MCAT score and knowing how to make French crepes and Penne Arrabiata would seal the deal. It did!!
I was accepted by UCLA Medical School. I felt so honored to be in the presence of so many bright human beings. UCLA is where I finally embraced the fact that I could actually solidify my dreams. I worked day and night to prove that I was just as capable and worthy to serve my community. I volunteered at a labor and delivery unit in Mexico where I discovered my passion for surgery and helping women bring life into this world. I opted to attend a residency program at one of the toughest, most under-served hospitals in Los Angeles County, Harbor UCLA. This program was no joke. I was fed to the wolves and somehow survived well-versed in dog-speak. Harbor UCLA showed me how to be fearless on my own. There was no hand-holding. Some of the toughest cases I have ever seen in my life were part of my daily routine. Everyday, I thank my lucky stars to have been a part of such a wonderful program.
My journey, however, did not stop with residency. I was always drawn to the operating room and I wanted to sharpen my skills in minimally invasive surgery. I was especially interested in the Da Vinci Robot and its many applications in the surgical world. Thankfully, I was accepted to a fellowship program for minimally invasive and robotic surgery at Stanford University. Operating 4 days a week, sometimes 4-5 cases a day and conducting research was a grueling and humbling experience but when I completed my program I felt like I was finally polished.
The rest is history. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be in a position where I could actually open my own practice and become so busy in such a short amount of time. I am blessed to have come across my new associate, Dr. Sonia Rebeles, who completes the puzzle. We both have very similar family backgrounds and training. She is sweet, brilliant and an amazing surgeon. I could not have asked for a more impressive candidate. I look forward to growing this practice with her.
I have had many wonderful people help me along the way. I could not have achieved this dream without those who believed in me and those who did not. My ultimate life's goal is to practice the type of medicine that not only heals the body but more importantly touches the soul. I want to motivate other young women and men to follow their dreams, to feel that it is possible when you work hard towards your life's passion. I love what I do. I love my patients, the sweet, the challenging, the afraid, the vulnerable....every single one who helps me learn every day how to be a better person. I thank you for believing in me. I look forward to taking care of you. -H. Elena Rodriguez, M.D.
Copyright 2015. H. Elena Rodriguez. MD, Inc.. All rights reserved.