Integrity and honesty. There are no shortcuts in life. Your reputation, your word, and the content of your character are part of the foundation necessary for success. When asking others to believe in you, or to follow you, it can only be done if they know your character is beyond reproach. While building our first company, and now in our new venture, Joe and I asked others to join us. We asked them to believe in our business model and our commitment to them. I firmly believe their willingness and support stems greatly, not just from our experience and knowledge, but most importantly from them knowing we stand by our work and our honesty. One of them said to us while discussing the different risks of our project and discussing various investing possibilities in our company: “When I go to a horse race, I don’t bet on the horses, I bet on the jockeys.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Orlando Lopez-Fernandez, Jr., MD, Chief Medical Officer of Genuine Health Group. Orlando, a board-certified physician practiced clinical and interventional cardiology for over 20 years before retiring from private practice. Now, he serves as Chief Medical Officer of Genuine Health Group, the second healthcare company he co-founded with his partner, Joe Caruncho.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
The first 10 years of my life I grew up in a happy household, with my parents and my sister. We enjoyed financial stability, a high middle-class status, and lived in El Vedado, a beautiful neighborhood in Havana. I went to private schools, finishing 5th grade at The Phillips School in Havana, Cuba. My father was a well-known, prominent and respected physician, with an impeccable reputation. He taught students in the Medical School and in his early thirties became the youngest Vice President of the Cuban Medical Association. My mother had a Doctorate degree in Philosophy, Arts, and Literature, with aggregate studies in Adolescent Psychology.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
Yes. There was a military overthrow of the government by Fidel Castro and his followers in 1959. This was quickly followed by political repression, large scale abuses of human rights, mass killings by firing squads, and establishment of a communist regime with abolishment of the constitution and creation of a totalitarian state. This reign of terror forced many families to leave the country. We suddenly became “political exiles.”
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
Sad. We went back and forth to the airport for 4 days before we were allowed to depart. I was very young, but I remember vividly; it was the first time I had ever seen my mother so deeply saddened and, very quietly, cry. I’m sure my older sister and my parents felt much worse. My father stoically carried on as “normal” as he could. He stayed behind, thinking that this oppressive regime could not last more than 6 months. Also, it was very difficult for prominent people to be allowed permission to leave the country, and if you did, the government “confiscated” all your possessions — a more “sophisticated” term for stealing. There had to be an inventory performed prior to your departure and all your assets had to be accounted for before you were permitted to leave the country. For example, if you owned a car and it was broken, it had to be fixed and in running condition before your departure would be authorized. So my father patiently waited, convinced that this nightmare would soon be over. We left on July 8, 1961; I was 10 years old. My father after multiple attempts was finally allowed to leave Cuba on March 27, 1967, not before he had helped the rest of our family escape the country and the government “confiscated” all the remaining properties of worth. I was 16 years old and in 11th grade the next time I saw my dad.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
First and foremost, my mom. She was an amazing woman. It must be very tough to leave a successful life, full of happiness and respect, come to another country with two young kids, not speaking the language, and have to work in a purse factory to make ends meet and put food on the table. She did it with remarkable grace and a loving smile. She took on the roles of both mother and father, taught us right from wrong, the importance of an education, and the dignity of hard work.
I must mention Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh and Father Maximiliano “Max” Perez from St. Peter & Paul Catholic Church. Both played a crucial role in “Operation Pedro Pan” (Peter Pan) which, with the support of the Catholic Church, brought 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children to Florida early in the 1960s, finding good-hearted families throughout the United States that would act as temporary foster parents, helping these children escape tyranny and communism. This exodus of children coincided with our own immigration as political exiles to the United States and, consequently, I grew up and became friends with many of these children. I spent a lot of my time at St. Peter & Paul and both Msgr. Walsh and Father Perez provided help and filled a void in our lives, helping to guide us down the right path and later succeed in life.
So how are things going today?
My parents have since passed away. My sister is retired. I went to medical school and trained in internal medicine and later in cardiology. After practicing clinical and interventional cardiology for over 20 years, I retired from private practice and applied my knowledge and experience as an entrepreneur in the delivery of healthcare programs and solutions for patients who, because of age or disability, became Medicare beneficiaries. I am currently working as Chief Medical Officer in Genuine Health Group, the second healthcare company I have helped co-found with my partner, Joe Caruncho. We are both committed to provide healthcare excellence and resources to all our patients and physicians. I’m happily married and have a son who, of course, is “near perfect” and both my wife and I could not be prouder of the man he has become. He recently completed both his undergraduate studies and his Master’s degree in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and is taking his LSAT this fall. He is looking forward to law school. He is a very smart, kind, respectful, and loving person, interested in making a difference in the world.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m afraid I don’t have a long list of accomplishments in that regard, but I plan to continue contributing whenever I can. Here are a few things I remember which may help answer this question:
I’ve always strived to honor and be true to my oath as a doctor and have tried to help all of those in need, regardless of race, faith, or ability to pay for medical assistance and services. The vast majority of my adult life has been spent in providing medical excellence and improving the quality of life of my patients.
We have a few charities which we support, including St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, our church, and medical missions, to mention a few.
My wife and I are also proud founders and sponsors of the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, which provides an opportunity to those students whose dreams are to become physicians.
More importantly, I hope I was able to play a positive role in my son’s formation as a man.
You have first-hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
Recognizing the United States of America has always stood for providing refuge to those in need, we must also acknowledge we live in a very different and violent world, where terrorism is not a mere possibility, it’s a reality. Irrespective of political persuasion, we can all agree the safety and wellbeing of our fellow Americans is paramount. Thus, as a nation we must remain a safe harbor as well as vigilant and cautious in our immigration structure. Therefore, I would propose the following:
- Be very careful and selective in who is allowed in our country, in any capacity, and maintain vigilance after entry is allowed. Take advantage of our technological resources to thoroughly screen and be both careful and selective as to all persons entering the United States.
- Protect the borders from unlawful entry of dangerous people, drugs, etc. Again, emphasis on technology, law enforcement, and deportation whenever applicable, in as humane a method as possible.
- Devise a system which allows lawful pathways to residency/citizenship for those in this country “illegally,” who have shown to be law-abiding residents, have proven through hard work that they are upstanding and contributing members of their community, and have assimilated and adopted this country as their own. For instance, a sensical and “apolitical” solution to the DACA issue is critically important.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Education. Nothing prepares you to succeed in life better than a good education. Without a proper education, or technical professional expertise, it is harder for anyone to achieve success and in turn be able to help others do the same. I was on welfare for a few years when we first arrived in this country and went through our public school system. My parents always stressed the importance of continuing education. Our family could not afford to help me go to the local university/medical school, so I applied and was accepted to a university in Spain, The University of Zaragoza, in a 6-year medical school program, where the tuition was affordable. At that time my father had recently passed his licensing exams, had started to work as a physician, and was able to help me go to medical school. I worked summer jobs to save for school and procured student loans. After I returned, I passed the necessary licensure exams and trained for 6 more years at Christ Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. I was named Chief Resident in Internal Medicine and later Senior Fellow in Cardiology. After my medical training, I became Board Certified in both specialties. And I don’t consider myself special; if I could do it, so can everyone else.
- Integrity and honesty. There are no shortcuts in life. Your reputation, your word, and the content of your character are part of the foundation necessary for success. When asking others to believe in you, or to follow you, it can only be done if they know your character is beyond reproach. While building our first company, and now in our new venture, Joe and I asked others to join us. We asked them to believe in our business model and our commitment to them. I firmly believe their willingness and support stems greatly, not just from our experience and knowledge, but most importantly from them knowing we stand by our work and our honesty. One of them said to us while discussing the different risks of our project and discussing various investing possibilities in our company: “When I go to a horse race, I don’t bet on the horses, I bet on the jockeys.”
- Hard work and perseverance. Except for preparation and studying, nothing surpasses hard work on the way to success. I’ve worked many jobs since I arrived in the United States: selling newspapers, working in gas stations, mowing lawns, washing and waxing cars, cleaning hotels, selling shoes, etc., and later working long hours in hospitals during my training and “moonlighting” in different Emergency Rooms to supplement my income. Each job prepared me for the road ahead. I was taught by my parents that honest, hard work brought dignity and respect.
- Listening to advice. Life is lived and learned through experience. Our elders and teachers are a fountain of knowledge because they have experience on their side. They made mistakes, they encountered challenges, they failed and succeeded, they know what is most valuable, and they lived through the best and worst of times. Take time to listen to their advice. They have your best interests in mind and want you to achieve your goal. I was lucky to have many outstanding teachers, but I would like to give special recognition to my 10th grade High School English teacher, Mr. Marley. He was an excellent educator, who taught me that praise was often more effective than criticism in helping someone accomplish goals. This advice has helped me greatly in my leadership positions.
- Never giving up. There’s nothing you cannot accomplish if you focus and dedicate yourself to a goal. Don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t achieve a goal. The simple answer to that is, “Yes, you can.” It may not be easy, it will certainly take sacrifices. Persevere, follow your dreams, work hard, and you’ll emerge successful. Trust that “Yes, you can.” This comes from an immigrant who came as a child, was on welfare and worked different jobs, but was able to persevere, go to school and achieve all his goals and dreams. Never give up!
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- I have faith in our youth. I see it in our son, his cousins, and friends. They have already made a powerful personal impact by showing me different viewpoints, which have helped me grow as a person. They show respect and tolerance for all, believe in equity and justice, and possess a contagious desire to make a difference. The world and our future as a nation does look brighter because of them.
- I have faith our basic kindness as a nation and a people will prevail.
- And I also have faith that everyone in this great nation of ours will soon work to find common ground, allowing us to go forward. Always, despite our differences, when truly needed as history has shown, we come together as a nation and the rest becomes just “background noise.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
First, there are two people who I would give anything to be able to spend even a little time with, breakfast or lunch; but unfortunately, they are no longer in “this world.”
I would love to be able to see and spend time to discuss classical music (she loved Johann Strauss’ Viennese Waltzes), literature and poetry with my mother, and, of course, argue politics!
I would very much enjoy drinking “Cuban coffee” with my dad and allow him enough time to offer advice and help me set and keep my course in life, once more.
Second, I think I would enjoy meeting the current Secretary of Health & Human Services, Mr. Alex Azar, and have the opportunity to discuss the overall state of healthcare in the U.S., different ways of addressing its many challenges, as well as ways of improving our system, which in my view needs an “overhaul.”
- Quality of healthcare delivered, with focus on preventive services
- Our legal system and need to address litigation and malpractice: Tort reform?
- The pharmaceutical industry (costs/profits, FDA’s role, drug availability, etc.)
- Health insurance coverage
- Utilization of services by providers
- Physician reimbursement
- Regulatory burden
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.
Originally published at medium.com