Taking a History
Claims to Fame
Internal medicine physician, Laredo Medical Center; former member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board; former member, MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors
The Personal Touch
Continuity and personal relationships are hallmarks of the care Joaquín Cigarroa, Jr. ’47 provides. This nonagenarian still practices medicine 12 hours a day, often making house calls. “If patients are unable to come to your office, then I think that you should go to their homes,” he says. Unhurried communication with patients, families, and other physicians, says Cigarroa, is the foundation of good medicine.
In the 1930s, Cigarroa’s father, a physician, set up a general medical practice in the fast-growing border town of Laredo, Texas. By age eight, Cigarroa was accompanying his father to work, and at age ten, witnessed his first surgery. “It was an operation to remove an ice pick from the heart,” Cigarroa says. His father explained each step in the procedure. “I saw him practice medicine not as a business, but as a person. He treated his patients as if they were family.”
Cigarroa spent his summers in Mexico City with his extended family, many of whom were involved in education and teaching. “I got to see what education meant to a person’s life,” he says. The prospect of applying his mind—and his heart—to medicine took hold. In 1943, a telegram granted young Cigarroa’s wish—he had been accepted to HMS. He remembers two things from his first day: the gloominess of the New England December day and the first words of his anatomy professor, Robert Green. “He began by saying, ‘Gentlemen, respect the cadaver. It was once the abode of the human soul.’ ” Cigarroa was taught by William Castle, Class of 1921; Francis Peabody, Class of 1907; and George Minot, Class of 1912; among others. Each conveyed the importance of respecting the patient, listening carefully, and observing well in clinic. “I follow those principles,” he says.
The Pull of Home
Cigarroa completed internships at the University of Chicago and the former Boston City Hospital before serving in the Korean War in a special unit researching hepatitis. His heart, however, remained in clinical care. “When I left Laredo, I left with the intention of coming back,” he says. He established an internal medicine practice there and, in 1954, met and married Barbara, his wife of 60 years.
A Beautiful Mind
Cigarroa has been a driving force in medicine and education in Texas, having helped establish several medical centers and serving as chief of medicine at the Laredo Medical Center. He has also helped recruit doctors to an area that previously was underserved by physicians. As a testament to Cigarroa’s commitment to education, his ten children have earned a combined 22 degrees from Ivy League schools, including two who graduated from HMS. “There’s nothing more beautiful than learning,” he says.
Image: Hilmy Productions