Learning Paths Podcast
Dr. Francisco Borja earned his medical degree from Espiritu Santo University in Ecuador in 2016, but in many ways this was just the beginning of his education. He’s gone on to study a range of topics, from medicine to public health to business. He’s currently pursuing a law degree while completing his residency. In this episode of Learning Paths, he shares what keeps him motivated, how he finds the time to pursue new opportunities, and the advice he has for aspiring physicians.
Ben Rubenstein: Francisco, thank you so much for joining me here. I know you’re very busy. In fact, you just finished a procedure so I understand your time is precious, so I really appreciate you spending some time with me. I thought we could start by taking a little bit of a look back at your background and what inspired you to pursue a medical career in the first place.
Francisco Borja: I always saw my parents all dressed in white, with the coat and everything, and they always told me since I was a kid, like, “we choose the color white because we aren’t polluted, we are clean, we always have to have the best moral character. We have to be the best version of ourselves because we treat lives, we help people’s lives. We are almost like gods because we can cure someone, we can cure illnesses.” That’s something that’s stuck on me for a long time because all my parents are physicians, my sister and my brother, all my aunts, my cousins, my grandfathers, everyone mostly in my family are physicians, so it’s always something that I think was running through my veins.
And then I started my career in medicine, and one of the mottos of my university in Latin is ‘Non progredi regredi est’, which means, not going forward means going backwards. In my university, the Holy Spirit University, the name is Espiritu Santo, and that stuck in me because it means that if you don’t improve yourself, if you’re not the best version of what you are today or what you were yesterday, it means you need to improve. You need to be the best version of yourself every single day for you – not comparing yourself with anybody but with you.
Ben: That’s good, and I’m impressed that you took your school’s motto to heart so much. I can’t even remember the motto of my school so I think that’s impressive in and of itself. Now, I know that we met through you taking HMX online courses, but I know that you have taken a number of different courses both online and in person, not just in medicine but in public health, in business, marketing, all sorts of different topics, and I’m curious about what motivates you to take on all those different sorts of challenges even if they may not have a direct connection to your day-to-day job?
Francisco Borja: I love that question because I think it’s something, as I’ve said before, I take my time to be completely into what I want to learn or do and nothing else can interrupt me until I finish what I started. I discovered that every time I learn something new, I want to learn another thing, related or not to the first one, and that leads me to many other things that make me feel the joy of experiencing new professional and personal possibilities.
There are many things that I don’t know. I try to read by myself everything I can’t understand about that new topic that caught my attention. I perform my own research and get to the point of many things, even things that aren’t fully related. I think that a life without learning, it’s a useless life. You must improve, you must learn things.
As you said, I finished a Master’s Degree in Health Administration, in La Rioja University. It was an outstanding experience. And I’m also studying law. I started in law school online, this is an online opportunity, and I said, “Yeah, hey, why not? Everything is online now.” This pandemic has been disastrous but also has taught us that there are many things that can be done online.
Obviously, we can’t replace an in-person education, an in-person curriculum, being in person with the faculty and in the school, but an online opportunity means that you can learn a lot of things while being at your home, and that has taught me a lot. You can do many things at the same time if you have order, if you have discipline, if you can control your emotions, if you can discipline your mind and if you know what you want, you will get it.
I think my life, it’s about not wasting opportunities. It’s like a train. Life is like a train. If you miss that stop, you probably won’t have another opportunity to do that again. I think it’s something I’ll always have in my life – always taking opportunities, not wasting them.
Ben: I think it’s clear that you’ve taken advantage of those opportunities and particularly, I know you personally do a lot of travel and actually go to different countries and have new experiences and learn new things but also, when you can’t do that, taking advantage of those online opportunities. You mentioned some of your study in public health and I understand you’re now a teaching assistant for a public health program as well. Is that right?
Francisco Borja: Yes, in fact, one of the things I’m always grateful for [from] HMX [courses] is how they opened opportunities to not be afraid and apply [to] this brilliant university which is Harvard. Everybody is dreaming to have that and to study there, and thank God I believed in myself after joining the HMX course and said, “Yes, I can do this. I will be able to do this. I know I can, and I will.” And that motivated me to apply for the program called PPCR, that is Principles and Practices of Clinical Research which is an online clinical and investigational program. It is brilliant. It is run by Felipe Fregni. He’s an outstanding professor of Harvard Medical School and T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard. He teaches epidemiology there.
I learned a lot and it was an outstanding experience and then, you finish this program and afterwards if you really love clinical research and the program, you can apply to be a teacher’s assistant, which I did and thankfully, thank God, I got accepted. So now, I’m finishing my first year as teacher assistant.
Ben: Do you think that any of your educational experiences, do you see turning that into being a teacher yourself, dedicating more of your time to that side of education?
Francisco Borja: My father has always said that, “Knowledge that is not transmitted to anyone is nothing. Knowledge will always have to be transmitted. The knowledge that stays with you, it’s like a seed. You must plant those seeds in many people that are your students.” So yes, one day, I would love to be that and to have the honor of being a teacher myself, because teaching is something about if you truly love your experience in life and academically.
You will teach because you’ll want to transmit that passion to your students and I want to transmit these passions of what I felt, what I’m feeling with all, starting with HMX. I want students to feel the same as I: empowered, passionate ,and willing to do things, willing to start and finish things. Yeah, I absolutely would love to be a teacher.
Ben: Yeah, and I think that’s one of the things, you’re saying how it’s not just about starting things, it’s about finishing them as well. A lot of that, especially when you talk about online courses, comes down to finding the time to actually do them and being serious about them and motivating yourself to continue with them. I know you’re doing a lot of different things. How are you able to fit everything together and actually accomplish what you set out to do?
Francisco Borja: As I’ve said before, many times, because you’re not the first person that asked me this, to be honest. Many people, a lot of people, say, “How can you do this? How can you have the time to, actually? You’re studying law, you’re doing this teaching assistant program, you’re doing surgery, the residency, how can you find time?” I always answer [that] you always find time for the things you want in life.
You can do it and you will be able to do it. Controlling your emotions, disciplining your mind, with this discipline of saying, “I want to get from point A to point B,” and eliminating everything that will probably make it more difficult to get from point A to point B. You must take everything out, you must be straightforward.
One of the things I really would love to suggest to many people out there listening: We all have a smart phone, so basically what I do is I put everything, absolutely everything that I have to do on my life on the schedule, on the calendar.
I schedule everything, from my patients – I try to do everything from my smartphone because many people do have a calendar for one thing, no, just try to use one calendar, one Gmail account, and try to put everything in the calendar using that. Let’s say for example, every Tuesday, I will know that at 9:00 AM Boston time, I will have a new lecture in HMX course, so I will spend the whole day, I will not do anything, absolutely anything, until I finish my lecture – because I know Tuesday at 9:00 AM Boston time, starts my HMX course lecture.
It may sound a little bit rough, but if we have time to sleep, to eat, to go to the toilet, to do many things in life, you may be able to have time for what you want and that’s what it’s about. Finding time, you will always be able to have time for some things in life, and that’s the good thing on online courses, because most of them are recorded sessions so you will be able to do them at night but always with discipline, with control and knowing what you like.
Ben: It sounds to me like you really use your smartphone for maybe its intended purposes and not all the time-wasting purposes that have been invented for it, so that’s inspiring in its own right. Definitely it sounds to me like prioritization is what you’re focused on and figuring out what it is you want to accomplish and putting that first before other things. On that note, what’s your next priority? What do you want to accomplish next?
Francisco Borja: My next priorities are, I will become a plastic surgeon. I’m doing my residency, my general residency program, so during that time, I’m doing surgeries obviously, and also attending school. In three years, I will become a general surgeon, and during that time, I will also finish my law degree so I plan to be a lawyer in three more years. I’ll be a general surgeon and a lawyer, and then three more years to do my plastic surgery program in Brazil hopefully. I’ve always loved Brazil.
Yeah, who knows? Who knows? And maybe I was planning maybe to do a master’s in Harvard, that’s my dream as well. I love to do things, and I know I will with discipline and with a little persistence. Because it might sound that everything I do, maybe I do not have any mistakes. No, I do. I have a lot of mistakes. The thing is, if you step out of the road, just go again inside and just finish in the line. Finish, go to the line – because if you do that, you will succeed.
Ben: Thank you again for sharing all of that insight and perspective on how you do what you do, and some really practical advice for others who are considering doing some of the same things, whether it’s pursuing a medical career or pursuing a law career, just pursuing any sorts of goals. I think your advice is very relevant. I really appreciate your time and I’m sure our listeners will as well.
Francisco Borja: Hey, my pleasure, I’m honored.