Examiner.com posted “Medical tourism at its best: Lung surgeon helps to alleviate critical shortage” by Kristin Eckland.
Thoracic surgery is the less glamorous half of the cardiothoracic surgery specialty and deals with treatment of diseases of the lungs, mediastinum and esophagus. In many ways, it takes precedence over cardiac surgery for many of Calexico’s residents due to the high incidence of smoking, tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases.
Unfortunately, like cardiac surgery, thoracic surgeons are in short supply. However, unlike cardiac surgery, this shortage is not specific to Calexico and other rural areas. As an increasingly specialized subsection of cardiothoracic surgery due to advancing technologies such as minimally invasive surgery, the thoracic surgery shortage is more acute and affects the majority of the United States, and Canada. This leaves the existing, aging population of practicing surgeons overburdened and shorthanded with the average thoracic surgeon, at 58, facing retirement.
Ongoing surgeon shortage
This shortage has resulted in significant delays in the treatment of lung cancers and other lung diseases. The shortage is predicted to become even more acute in just a few short years, just as the incidence of lung cancers are expected to peak. Replacements are not forthcoming; only one-fifth of all cardiothoracic surgery residents elect to specialize in thoracic surgery, with the majority of future surgeons focusing on cardiac surgery procedures.
Dr. Carlos Cesar Ochoa Gaxiola, Thoracic Surgeon
Fortuitously for Calexico residents, there is Dr. Carlos Cesar Ochoa Gaxiola. He is one of just three thoracic surgeons in all of northern Mexico. Since completing his thoracic surgery fellowship in 2010, Dr. Ochoa has called Mexicali home. Like most surgeons in Mexicali, Dr. Ochoa has a salaried staff position at the public hospital as well as seeing private patients at a variety of other facilities. Unlike cardiac surgery, this system actually works quite well for his practice; thoracic surgery does not require an extensive array of specialized equipment even for the most complex procedures, and the staff at the various facilities knows Dr. Ochoa and his preferences.
Calexico residents can take comfort in the fact that the primarily Spanish-speaking surgeon is an extraordinarily gifted and caring surgeon. After a month-long investigation and observation of Dr. Ochoa and his thoracic surgery service in and out of the operating room; it is easy to recommend him as a standout example of excellence in health care. The soft-spoken and laid back demeanor hides a quick intellect and a talented young surgeon. His braces and ready smile belie his experience and surgical abilities in the treatment of thoracic diseases, including the most advanced minimally invasive procedures such as dual port thoracoscopy. In the operating room, he is meticulous yet decisive in his techniques and follows the most modern protocols and advances in surgery.
On the floor, rounding with residents, he is relaxed but strict. The interns and residents respect him but fear to disappoint him due to his attention to detail. As one of the residents explained, “We dread the thoracic surgery service rotation because it’s a heavy workload but we learn a lot too. He’s a tough professor but fair.”
The Compassionate Provider
But this is only half of the picture of this dedicated surgeon; the other half is the compassionate provider, who drives an hour to perform a palliative procedure on a patient in his native San Luis in the adjacent Mexican state of Sonora. The treatment certainly won’t cure the patient with an advanced cancer but it provides critical symptom relief. This is typical of Dr. Ochoa, making hospital and clinic visits to see patients who would otherwise have to travel to Hermosillo, which is over 380 miles away.
Dr. Ochoa, and other dedicated and compassionate medical providers like him are already changing the lives and improving the quality of care for Mexicali residents. Now they have the chance to do it for neighboring Californians too.