Hailing from the Central American country of Panama, Dr. Carlos Barba is a bariatric and general surgeon with medical practices in the towns of Brownsville and Harlingen, Texas. After earning degrees from both the University of Montreal and the University of Pennsylvania, he finished his medical training by completing a fellowship in trauma and critical care. The newly-minted Dr. Barba then moved to Hartford, Connecticut where he soon began performing bariatric surgery due to the high demand for it in the area coupled with the lack of local qualified surgeons trained in that field of medicine. Dr. Carlos Barba quickly became a member of the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgeons (ASMBS), and in 2005, became involved in founding the state of Connecticut’s first ASMBS Center of Excellence. Dr. Barba relocated to Texas in 2013, proceeding to play a pivotal role in creating the first ASMBS Center of Excellence in the Rio Grande Valley, located in Cameron Country. To merit this auspicious designation, both the presiding surgeon and the medical center itself have to meet the strictest standards for patient safety and care. Currently, Dr. Carlos Barba spends about fifty percent of his professional time on bariatric surgery and the other fifty percent on general surgery. He has performed more than 7000 weight loss procedures during the course of his career, to date.
1- Why did you decide to relocate your medical practice to Texas?
Simply put, I relocated my medical practice to the Rio Grande Valley because it had a long-standing shortage in terms of experienced bariatric and general surgeons. This isn’t an affluent area, but just because a group of people isn’t wealthy doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve competent medical treatment. Secondarily, as I am originally from Panama, the culture in this part of southern Texas reminds me a lot of my upbringing—at least, more so than Connecticut or Quebec. After spending quite a bit of time in Canada and New England, I found myself desiring to live in a more familiar locale.
2- What do you love most about the industry you are in?
I would imagine that this answer is really common with those in the medical community, but what I love most about being a doctor is helping people and improving the lives of my patients. There is no better feeling in the world than coming out of an operating room after successful surgery and informing a patient’s loved ones that the procedure was a total success. I love seeing the joy and relief wash over their faces. More often than not, in the moments after I do that, I find myself on the receiving end of a hug or two. The only feeling that might rival that one is telling the patient themselves after they awaken in the recovery room from the anesthesia.
3- What would you tell others looking to get into your industry?
Don’t get into medicine for the money. Although physicians are well-compensated—and rightly so, because we provide a very valuable service—it is just the wrong profession to pursue if your motivation is purely financial. For those looking to become doctors, surgeons, dentists, or nurses, a certain amount of empathy for the injured and sick is an absolute necessity, and that is difficult to summon up if all you see when you look at a patient are dollar signs and padded invoices. So, if you have sympathy for those who are ill and suffering, as well as an inquisitive mind and a propensity for science, medicine is probably a good fit. If, however, you are simply looking to cash in, I would reconsider.
4- What keeps you motivated?
I suppose my biggest motivation is having a positive impact on the lives of my patients. There is also the overwhelming desire to take care of my family, in both material and spiritual sense. I am a man of God. I am a believer in God’s strength and wisdom, and I seek God’s guidance on a daily basis in order to keep my family and myself on the straight and true path. Apart from that, I have a powerful sense of duty—duty to my patients, duty to my wife and children, duty to my profession, and duty to myself as a doctor. These things provide me with more than adequate motivation.
5- How do you maintain a work-life balance?
When I have a moment or two of free time, I really enjoy reading novels by James Patterson. I find a good thriller or mystery really clears my head. Aside from that, I try to take as much time as I can to spend with my family. Usually, that comes in the form of eating our evening meal and conversing, but sometimes we take day trips to the beach or go to the movies.
6- What trends in your industry excite you?
I would recommend that everyone keep an eye on the incredible new developments relating to robotic surgery. The rapid progress that the scientific and engineering communities are making on that front is just absolutely astounding. Many lives will be saved and many surgical complications will be avoided in the near future because of it, mark my words.
7- What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
The Golden Rule has always stuck with me. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As a physician, it is my mantra. But how could anyone argue with it? It’s the truest of truisms.
8- What’s one piece of advice you would give to others?
In all earnestness, it would be the same as the answer I gave to the previous question. I can reword it in modern parlance if you like: treat others as you wish to be treated.
9- Outside of work, what defines you as a person?
First and foremost, my family. Second, my desire to keep learning and bettering myself. For instance, right now, I’m taking classes to earn a Master’s of Business Administration in the field of Healthcare, which means that I work all day long—split between two practices in two towns—and then at night, I go home and study for this degree. As a consequence, I don’t have a lot of spare time, but that doesn’t really bother me because I love learning new things. I guess if there’s a third thing that defines me, it would be my personality and inner motivation. I like to think that I’m an amicable and approachable person and that most of what I do with my life is motivated by a genuine and deep-rooted sense of caring, as well as a desire to help people in need.
10- What is one thing you would change in your industry today if you could?
There are a lot of frivolous medical lawsuits in the United States. Although the watchful eyes of insurance companies, lawyers, and the overarching legal system are, in my view, very much necessary to keep some fringe outliers in the medical community from exploiting their vulnerable patients, oftentimes they go too far in suing for malpractice. That being said, in my native country of Panama, there is next to no oversight for medical malpractice, and that leads to some terrible situations where surgeons do really sloppy work and go totally unpunished—and that’s even worse! Still, I can’t help but think there must be a reasonable middle ground between these two extremes.