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As the first
physician in his family, Dr. Raul Rivera's mother proudly tells a
story that as a child her son loved to play doctor, handing out
prescriptions to family members. By the time he entered college,
Dr. Rivera had decided that becoming a physician was what he wanted
Dr. Rivera grew up in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and attended the
University of Puerto Rico, where he earned both a degree in biology
and his medical degree. He was accepted into the United States
Army's F. Edward
Hébert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship
Program (HPSP). The program provides full scholarships to
qualifying students pursuing a medical professional degree. In
return, scholarship recipients must complete one year of active
duty service for every year that they received the scholarship.
When Dr. Rivera moved to San Antonio, Texas for his residency,
and to attend the officer's basic training courses required by the
Army, he immediately felt at home in San Antonio because of the
city's Hispanic heritage. He was also impressed with the facilities
at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), which was his first choice in
Although he knew that he always wanted to become a physician,
Dr. Rivera did not always know that he wanted to become an
internist. When he entered medical school, Dr. Rivera originally
wanted to practice ophthalmology. During his third year of medical
school, he spent a month working with an internist in private
practice who inspired him. This physician provided Dr. Rivera with
a lot of autonomy as a medical student. "Having the experience of
seeing the day-to- day life of an internist, and the wide range of
what kind of care they are responsible for made me want to become
an internist," said Rivera. After morning rounds, he would sit down
with the attending physician and discuss the patients they had
treated that day. This particular internist had a profound effect
on Dr. Rivera and his approach to teaching. The attending set aside
time with Dr. Rivera to discuss not only the patients that they
saw, but also took the time to give him advice on becoming a better
physician. Afterward, Dr. Rivera completed a medicine
sub-internship at BAMC, which sealed his decision to pursue a
career in internal medicine.
In his current role as Chief of the Internal Medicine Clinic,
which Dr. Rivera describes as often a "potpourri" of duties and
tasks, he supports the providers and staff within the hospital,
acts as a patient advocate, as well as sees patients of his own.
"The position is a little bit of everything - a little bit
administrative, a little bit outpatient clinician, and inpatient
attending physician as well."
Recently, Dr. Rivera was instrumental in the large task of
bringing the clinic more in alignment with the Patient-Centered
Medical Home concept, making the clinic more patient and
provider friendly. This required a rearrangement of all the
providers and the support staff, as well as the creation of
"Seeing how the clinic transformed and how it all came together
at the end was a major achievement. Seeing the nurses develop a
sense of ownership of the team, and seeing how the providers, by
working together with the nurses, ultimately improved the patients'
level of care gave me a great sense of satisfaction."
Dr. Rivera is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at BAMC. He
works with a team of medical students during their internal
medicine rotation in the hospital, and gives lectures. BAMC hosts
students from the Uniformed Services University of the Health
Sciences (USUHS) and the University of Texas Health Sciences Center
San Antonio (UTHSCSA). Students from USUHS attend BAMC for both
outpatient and inpatient teaching, where Dr. Rivera interacts with
them in the internal medicine clinic. He likes to teach in a
similar manner to the way he was trained as a physician and
student. While studying in the clinic, students are given the
opportunity to see patients individually, and then meet with Dr.
Rivera to discuss the cases.
One thing that motivated Dr. Rivera to pursue a career in
teaching was a bit of guidance from an attending physician during
his residency. In a midsession review to discuss his performance,
the attending physician gave Dr. Rivera the advice that if he
wanted to become a truly successful physician in the United States,
then he must improve his English. Dr. Rivera not only took this
advice, but also continues to use the same technique of one-on-one
sessions with his students.
"The way that I choose to practice and to teach medical students
came from this approach of individual meeting sessions with my
attending physicians during my residency."
Dr. Rivera encourages many of the medical students that he
teaches to pursue a career in internal medicine. "I tell medical
students: the opportunity that you get to treat patients throughout
many years of their life is an opportunity that you will only find
in internal medicine."
Dr. Rivera balances his career as an internist at a teaching
institution with his family life. He met his wife, a critical care
registered nurse, while working at BAMC. Their two young sons keep
them really busy at home. During his free time, Dr. Rivera enjoys
playing the guitar and learning about technology, but admits that
spending time with his family takes precedence over his
Back to May
2011 Issue of IMpact
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