Dr. Monica Verduzco Gutierrez
Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Could you give some background about where you were born, raised, went to college, medical school and residency?
I was born in Wharton, Texas, near the petroleum plants where my father was a pipe fitter. We moved when I was 4 years-old to the Rio Grande Valley, when he decided to return to college and complete a bachelor’s degree. I was raised there with my two siblings in Edinburg, Texas, near my large extended Mexican-American family. I ultimately graduated valedictorian of McAllen High School. I continued to hang my hat in Texas after being accepted into Rice University. I then went to Baylor College of Medicine for medical school, internship and residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. I have been in Houston 20 years now and consider it my home.
When did you join UTHealth?
October 2009. This Oct 1 will be my 8 year anniversary here as an attending! I was first exposed to UTHealth in 2006 as a resident. My PM&R residency was an alliance at the time between Baylor and UT. I was lucky to be exposed to the great education, teachers, and hospitals affiliated with UT early in my training.
Tell us a little bit about what you do as a faculty member? What opportunities are available to you? What challenges do you face in your area discipline?
As a faculty member, I am a very busy clinician, educator, and administrator. I am the Vice Chair of Quality, Compliance and Patient Safety in the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UTHealth. I am the Medical Director of the Brain Injury and Stroke Programs at TIRR Memorial Hermann. I see patients as a consultant at Memorial Hermann Hospital-Texas Medical Center, where I sub-specialize in Brain Injury Medicine, Trauma Rehabilitation, and Neuro-Rehabilitation. I also have a bustling outpatient clinical practice at TIRR-Memorial Hermann Hospital, as well. My practice focuses on Neuro-Rehabilitation and Spasticity management. And I’m Program Director of the Brain Injury Medicine Fellowship program. In all of these settings, I serve as an attending for PM&R trainees and medical students.
The biggest challenge in my practice is finding resources for patients who are uninsured or under-insured. Healthcare is ever changing and becoming more expensive. There are still too many patients – often minorities or the disabled – who cannot get the care and rehabilitation services, equipment, or treatment they need.
What inspired you to pursue a career in science?
I grew up in one of the poorest areas of the country where my own public education was sub-par at best. My mother was the 3rd born of 13 children. She grew up extremely impoverished, but her parents instilled the importance of education. She was one of the first in her family to go to college and graduate. I was grateful to grow up middle-class, have two working parents – both teachers – who further instilled in us the power of education. Ironically, my parents always told us never to be teachers. Despite their warning, I am in the medical field now and teaching! My parents inspired us to focus, work hard, and help those in need. My siblings and I are the first ones in our family to be in medicine.
Who are/were your role models in medicine?
My first role models in medicine were my Pediatrician and our Family Physician in the Rio Grande Valley. It was inspiring to see these physicians make such a difference in the lives of others; and they were Hispanic like me!
Currently, I look up to the women physician leaders – and there are many – around me at UTHealth and in my medical society.
How do you promote diversity in your position here at UTHealth?
It should be well-known that a diverse workforce is imperative in delivering quality healthcare. In that aim, I continue to try to educate my fellow colleagues, trainees and students on issues related to diversity, women in medicine, gender equity, and unconscious bias. I am lucky to be involved in the Faculty Diversity & Inclusion committee, where I interact with many faculty who support a similar vision of inclusion. Furthermore, I try to expose my residents and students to a diverse population of patients and teach them empathy.