Carlos Gonzales, MD: A Healer in Spirit

When programs begin at Arizona Health Sciences University, Carlos Gonzales, MDThe University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson associate professor of family and community medicine can often be seen with an abalone shell filled with smoking sage and cedar to give ceremonial Native American blessings.

This is just one of many hats she wears at the college, including assistant dean for curricular affairs, committee chair of the Primary Care Physician Scholarship Program, and director of the Rural Health Professions Program (RHPP) and Underserved Peoples (CUP) Volunteer Program. Includes commitment. , The last two roles see him head the College’s Rural Health and Community Service Distinction Tracks.

A Tucson native of Mexican and Yankee ancestry, he also has a hereditary link to a line of physicians whose roots reach back to the 1840s and earlier, before Arizona became part of the United States.

In the opening talk of a new Heritage Healing Practices lecture series, Dr. Gonzales and her sister, Adela Gonzales, lay out their family history of grandmothers and great-grandmothers who used the names “yerbera,” “parterus,” “sobadoras” and ” served.” Kandras ”- herbalists, midwives, massage therapists and healers – practice traditional folk medicine.

looking back and forth

In reflection, he notes that his career has largely been about inspiring positive change through soft power and example. Graduates of all backgrounds, but especially Native American or Latino, often cite him as a mentor.

“My overall emphasis has always been on cross-cultural medicine, border health and access to care for the uninsured and underserved,” Dr. Gonzales said. “By attending the University of Arizona and the College of Medicine, I have quietly and subtly influenced a lot of the ideology here, where we are recruiting students who have a desire to help other communities, strongly supporting diversity do, and are willing to advocate for health care reform for disadvantaged populations.

from humble beginnings

Dr. Gonzales is candid, often noting his life milestones by saying modestly, “So, I did that,” or “I really enjoyed it.” His path to healing was a matter of taking advantage of opportunities, he said.

His Pascua Yaqui father was a roofer with a third grade education. His Mexican American mother went even further, he said, but she was not a good student. He was the first high school graduate in his father’s family.

“My overall emphasis has always been on cross-cultural medicine, border health and access to care for the uninsured and underserved.”
Carlos Gonzales, MD

“I didn’t know what I was going to do after high school, unfortunately. I was good at math and science, but I didn’t have a goal at the time because everyone in my family was either a miner, construction labored or lived on the wrong side of the law, trafficked drugs,” Dr. Gonzales said.

Then, an Arizona student he knew suggested he join Med-Start, a summer academic enrichment program to improve access for high schoolers interested in the health professions.

So, instead of carrying hot coals from a kettle to the roof under the scorching sun with his father, he opted for a position in an air-conditioned university science laboratory. The work inspired him to go to college and become a doctor to address the urban physician shortage he knew so well.

“The fact was there were no doctors on the south side of Tucson. If you wanted to be seen, you had to go to Tucson Medical Square or Thomas Davis, which were all in Midtown,” Dr. Gonzales said. The offices were around Tucson Medical Center and St. Mary’s, which was difficult to get to with a large extended family and only one car.”

As a child, he remembered occasional visits to the doctor with his great-grandmother. It was she who was a herbalist.

“They didn’t have anyone to drop me off with, so I’ll stay,” he said. “She was speaking Spanish, and the docs didn’t treat her well. I saw how she was treated, and it was rather rude and sarcastic, without any sensitivity to cultural differences.

He demanded to change it.

serving the urban underprivileged

Dr. Gonzales received a scholarship to complete her undergraduate studies at Carleton College, a private liberal arts school in Northfield, Minnesota, near Minneapolis. Each summer, he worked as a minority recruiter for a college in the Southwest, staying overnight with friends in Albuquerque or El Paso when necessary.

He returned to Tucson in 1977 as a medical student at the College of Medicine – Tucson and continued with Med-Start as an informal student counselor. He and seven classmates (six Latinos and one Hopi) also initiated health education for elementary and middle school students and, with faculty assistance, won a grant that became the CUP program in 1979.

He went to the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque in 1981 for residency training and completed a fellowship in adolescent medicine. His focus was on teenagers with drug problems in juvenile detention centers. He said he hopes to help the kids he knew growing up.

His participation in the Arizona State Loan Repayment Program, which, like the PCP Scholarship, helps provide doctors to medically underserved areas, brought him back to Tucson for three years of service. He spent eight years at El Rio Health (1985–93), serving the last four years as medical director.

old country doctors

Tired of administrative duties—”Not my thing,” he said—he took a friend’s advice to fill a vacancy for a rural doctor in Patagonia, Arizona. His wife grew up on a farm and wanted their children to have that rural experience. Their home was outside Nogales, close enough to make a short trip to Patagonia.

“From ’93 to 2006, I was the only doctor in Patagonia. My service area was 1,600 square miles, stretching from Nogales to Sierra Vista, from the border to I-10. I really enjoyed being that old-timey country doctor.” where you relied on your skills as a therapist, listening to people, examining them, putting the story together so it made sense, and coming out with a diagnosis to treat them. It perfected my clinical skills.”

Dr. Gonzales will leave his positions at the College of Medicine – Tucson in January, but will remain with the University of Arizona Health Sciences to assist Global MD, a new medical school partnership with the University of Western Australia.He was active with the Arizona Academy of Family Physicians and the Arizona Association of Community Health Centers. During the administration of former President Bill Clinton, she was appointed to the US-Mexico Border Health Commission, where she collaborated on cross-border projects to assist people.

“Then, boom, 9/11 happens and the border closes. All that cooperation goes down the drain,” he said. “All the programs we had planned are gone.”

In 2006, he left his practice to join the college as a full-time faculty member.

“But all the while, I maintained my political activity, and I joined the National Board of the American Academy of Family Physicians,” Dr. Gonzales said. “This was before the Affordable Care Act. We were actually advocating for a program like the ACA, and I was very involved in that. I also currently serve on the board of directors of the American Board of Family Medicine.”

Dr. Gonzales is leaving his position at the College of Medicine – Tucson in January, but plans to continue working part time with Global MD, a uArizona Health Sciences initiative and in partnership with the University of Western Australia.

“It’s a two and two program – two years in Western Australia and two years in Arizona. I’ll be working on the Arizona component,” Dr. Gonzales said.

Global MD’s focus on rural medicine and indigenous populations will allow them to teach students about Native American health issues. He is passionate about it, having successfully worked throughout his career to integrate Western and Native healing practices that focus on healing the soul as well as the body.

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