Dr. Carlos Barba is a general surgeon in Harlingen and Brownsville, Texas. He studied at the University of Montreal and the University of Pennsylvania and then did a fellowship in trauma and critical care. Early in his career he moved to Hartford, Connecticut and began specializing in bariatric surgery since there was no one handling that type of surgery at that time and he was trained to do it. He became a member of the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgeons (ASMBS) and then was involved in creating the first ASMBS Center of Excellence in Connecticut in 2005.
When Dr. Barba relocated to Texas in 2013, he continued to do bariatric surgery and he created the first ASMBS Center of Excellence in Cameron County and in the Rio Grande Valley. To meet this requirement, both the surgeon and the hospital must meet the highest standards in patient care. A center that is certified has the expertise of a good surgeon, and there is a whole team prepared to take care of the patient. Dr. Barba’s practice is about 50% bariatric surgery, but he also does general surgery.
What do you find most challenging about your career?
Every patient can be a challenge, but the most challenging thing as a physician in this country right now is the scrutiny and the liability that we have. We try to help a patient that comes with a problem and we try to help them to the best of our ability, but we are at risk for legal problems. This can be a huge problem. Sometimes physicians have to do things that we don’t need to do in order to protect ourselves from liability. This is a challenge. It is not an issue that is going to disappear.
The intention in the U.S. is good, to protect the patient from the negligence of a doctor. People really do try to do the best they can, but you cannot expect perfect outcomes. In Panama, where I come from, it is the other extreme and there is no issue about malpractice. Nobody cares about insurance because there is not an industry looking to see how to get money from the doctors, but that also allows in some instances less than desirable medical care. That is the other extreme of less accountability, which is not the best system either.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone starting in your industry?
Make sure that this is something that you want to do for the right reasons, not for the wrong reasons. Wrong reasons would be thinking about the monetary and financial rewards. No matter what specialty you go into, make sure you have a routine. Make sure you get are going to love that routine. For example, as a surgeon I do weight loss surgeries. It is the same surgery all the time, but you are doing this on different individuals. You have to get to know your patient a little bit in order to make it fun and to stay motivated to go to work every day.
If you could change anything about your industry what would it be and why?
I would change the malpractice issue. There may be some bad doctors that we need to protect the people. I think if you had a complaint, you should have to go to a group or a board of doctors in the same field to see if your complaint merits to go further. Right now if you go to a lawyer, he will find some mercenary doctors that will say, “Oh yea, that’s malpractice” and that starts the whole thing. It is a terrible thing. In Texas it is better because we have tort reform and there is a limit of what is given for pain and suffering, but it does not necessarily eliminate it.
How would your colleagues describe you?
I am somebody who is very accessible. My colleagues can call me directly. I am not pretentious. I hope they see me as a very good surgeon. The fact that I have a lot of referrals tells me that. I am easy to talk to. I am not like some others who can be very abrupt and may not be good with people.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
That is something that is not easy for me. If a patient of mine calls in the middle of the night, I want to help. My wife is not a physician, but she supports me 100% and helps me with this. You have to make time for your kids and your family. My kids are older and do not want to do as many things with us, but hobbies also help me.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
My father has passed now, but he was always my main role model. People always talked nicely about him and I wanted to emulate that. My dad had wanted to go into medicine, but at the time there was no medical school in Panama. He always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do.
My father had studied chemical engineering at a college in Iowa since he had a scholarship for that, but he never liked it so he ended up being a teacher and then a principal.
The training to become a surgeon in Panama was not ideal for me, so I came to the U.S. for training. I had planned to return to Panama, but life has its twists, and I decided to stay in the U.S.
What does success look like to you?
For me, the most important thing is family and that you have a good person in your life so you are able to provide your kids the things that you had and more. I want to give my kids the opportunity to be better people. Success to me is measured by the number of friends I have. Success is measured in the appreciation that you feel from the people that are around you. Success has nothing to do with money. Having money is not bad, but it is not the most important thing.