Dr. Alina Alvarez’s journey to becoming a physician began one generation ago and one country away. It began as a love story.
Alina’s mother was a physician in Cuba. One day, a photographer came to her hospital to document medical procedures and diseases. Though the photographs were sometimes gruesome, they developed into a picture of love as Alina’s mother and the photographer fell for each other.
The two married, had two daughters but knew they could not achieve their happily ever after in Cuba. In 1980, a legal mass emigration known as the Mariel boatlift was underway. However, the country would not permit any professionals to leave, especially a valuable doctor like Alina’s mother. So, the two came up with a plan to give their daughters a better life, but it would require much sacrifice. Alina’s mother traded in her lab coat for a disguise and a false identity. Along with her husband, young daughter, and newborn baby, she went to Mariel Harbor and joined the throngs of people voyaging to a promising future. Their voyage was successful, but their future was set back over a decade as her mother gave up her medical credentials.
The young family started over, and so did Alina’s mother. She repeated all she had already accomplished as a physician in Cuba to practice in the States. Alina’s father did any odd job to support the family until he and his wife opened a medical practice.
Such an incredible journey did not end with the two lovebirds achieving the American Dream.
The journey continued as Alina completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Miami and her medical degree in the Caribbean, which is fully accredited for practicing in the States. All the while, Alina worked in the hospital system in Patient Safety and Quality Management.
Alina was excited to become a practicing physician, but life forced her to put her dreams on hold, as it often does. She could not be an employee, mother, and resident full time. So, she did what her mother did many years, and put her medical career on hold to put her family first.
The hold was only temporary. Just like her mother, Alina restarted her medical career as soon as her family life was stable. She was accepted into a residency in Miami, was appointed Chief Resident for the Family Medicine program and completed her continuity clinic at Islamorada Medical Center. Now, after twenty years working in the medical field, Alina is officially Dr. Alina Alvarez, Board Certified Physician in Family Medicine.
“I didn’t want my children to see I went to medical school and didn’t finish. I wanted to show them the same dogged determination I grew up seeing in my parents,” Dr. Alvarez shares. Dr. Alvarez still lives in Miami with her family, but she was not about to give up her patients that she became so close with in the Keys. She still practices at Islamorada Medical Center, seeing patients of all ages, from pregnancy to geriatrics.
Practicing in both Miami and the Keys strikes a perfect balance for Dr. Alvarez. She still remains close to her close-knit Cuban family and gets to be the small-town doctor who has personable relationships with her patients.
“Working at Islamorada Medical Center is wonderful. The other physicians are welcoming and helpful, and the staff knows everybody and everything about the Keys. Add on to that my amazing patients, and I look forward to coming every week.”
Dr. Alvarez says the hour and a half commute is a small sacrifice to serve the patients who show her so much appreciation. The short drive is simply a reminder of the long road she and her parents have traveled.
– Jerrica Mah is a writer, army wife, and freelance book editor, who loves to travel with her family.