Top surgeon inspires Waukegan students to pursue dreams

  • U.S. Navy Capt. Dr. Romeo Ignacio recently visited Waukegan High School students to discuss overcoming barriers to academic and professional success.

    U.S. Navy Capt. Dr. Romeo Ignacio recently visited Waukegan High School students to discuss overcoming barriers to academic and professional success. Courtesy of Jonathan Gibby

 
Submitted by Judy Masterson
Updated 10/20/2015 2:51 PM

U.S. Navy Capt. Dr. Romeo Ignacio, program director for general surgery at Naval Medical Center San Diego, recently visited Waukegan High School students to discuss overcoming barriers to academic and professional success.

A 1997 graduate of the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, which sponsored the visit, Ignacio, who lived for a time in Waukegan but graduated from Highland Park High School, said he could have benefitted from professional mentorship and guidance as a high school student.

 

"I wish someone was there 30 years ago to tell me 'Hey, I've walked in your shoes,'" Ignacio said. "I had no aspirations because no one told me there were doors to open."

Ignacio nearly settled on a career as a manager for Kmart earning $4.15 per hour before his father and mother, immigrants from the Philippines, insisted he apply to college. He went on to earn his undergraduate degree from Baylor University.

The young Ignacio took part in an NIH-funded summer internship program in research at Chicago Medical School aimed at providing exposure to careers in science and health care for students from backgrounds underrepresented in those fields. Rosalind Franklin University sponsors similar programs today, including the eight-week summer research and mentoring program INSPIRE.

Ignacio's work as a summer intern under Professor Aaron Mosnaim, Ph.D., resulted in the coauthorship of three papers in scientific journals. But after college, he worked as a lab tech, a job he disliked, until his wife convinced him, he said, that he should pursue medicine.

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"A lot of people told me 'You can't become a doctor. You'll never be a surgeon. You'll never get into Baylor,'" Ignacio said in urging students to ignore those voices and "listen to the people who are important to you."

Board certified in both general surgery and pediatric surgery, Ignacio served as director of surgical services and advance team lead surgeon for the Pacific Partnership 2012 humanitarian mission, which provided medical care to more than 100,000 patients in host nations and surgical care to more than 800 patients in Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.

Following his visit to Waukegan High School on Oct. 7, Ignacio discussed his humanitarian service aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy during a Chicago Medical School Grand Rounds presentation at Rosalind Franklin University, located in North Chicago.

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