Our American Dream: Businessman Fulfills Dream to Become Doctor

Across the United States, in all fields of endeavor, Latinos are working to uphold their place in American society. Fox News Latino is proud to present "Our American Dream" – a series of snapshots and profiles of Latino success stories. 

As the school year begins and high school and college students across the nation ponder their professional futures, it’s a good time to share this story of early inspiration, failure, destiny and reassessing life’s priorities.

Meet San Francisco’s Dr. Arnaldo Moreno, a Cuban-American who traded in his tie for a stethoscope after deciding making money for IBM shareholders just wasn't enough.

While accompanying his parents, Arnaldo Sr. and Trinidad Moreno, as they cleaned doctors’ offices, little Arnaldo Jr. noticed how much they revered the physicians. His parents, newly arrived Cuban immigrants, clearly held the medical profession in high regard. Young Arnaldo developed a fascination, too.

As the tiniest member of the cleaning crew, the 4-year-old was fascinated with the books, the tools and the machines he stumbled upon.

But then his life changed. His parents divorced when Arnaldo was 5. Trini was left alone with two older sisters, a single mom working multiple jobs and trying to assimilate to life in the United States.

“My mom realized the value of an education and was therefore super strict with academics,” Arnaldo said. “She wouldn’t settle for anything less than straight A's. She had very high expectations.”

And her son delivered.

I looked at my dad dying at the age of 57 from some poor life choices and saw he felt disappointment with his life. I started evaluating my own life, my purpose.

— Dr. Arnaldo Moreno

His best friend in high school, Steve Hamamoto, the son of Japanese immigrants, encouraged Arnaldo to explore colleges and accompanied him on campus visits. But Arnaldo was hearing mixed messages from his father, now living in Miami.

“He said I should join the Army,” he recalls. “He told me that college would be a waste of time and money. He doubted I could finish. His motives weren’t to be cruel. He felt we belonged to a social class that could not attend college. He didn’t want me to be disappointed if it didn’t work out.  Instead, he advised me that the military was the way to become a man.”

But his friend's desire to attend college rubbed off on Arnaldo. He aimed high and applied to some of the most selective universities in the country -- and was accepted to each college he applied.

He ended up at the University of California at Berkeley, where he began a pre-med program, hoping to become a doctor.

After failing both physics and calculus his first semester, Arnaldo was put on academic probation. He began to doubt his future as a medical doctor. He took economics classes and decided to major in political science and shift his focus to working in corporate America.

During his last semester at Berkley, IBM hosted a big recruiting event on campus.

“It was 90 degrees on a hot spring day and I was dressed in shorts and a tank top,” he recalls. “I happened to have a fresh batch of resumes so I decided to stop by anyway. I walked by the registration table without making eye contact with anyone. I approached the first person in a suit with an IBM badge and introduced myself.”

He apologized for his attire and asked for a formal interview. When the man responded stating an interest only in business and engineering majors, Arnaldo, prepared for this objection, made his case.

“I stated that a graduate with a liberal arts degree was much better suited for critical thinking in business, perhaps more so than an engineering major focused on technical thinking.”

The IBMer liked his courage. Arnaldo got his formal interview in San Francisco two days later. Upon graduation, he worked for IBM and moved to Miami after a promotion. He led the company's product rollouts, marketing, and advertising functions.

When Arnaldo was 27, his father passed away.

“I started soul searching and feeling my own mortality,” he said. “I looked at my dad dying at the age of 57 from some poor life choices and saw he felt disappointment with his life. I started evaluating my own life, my purpose.”

He realized that making money for IBM shareholders simply wasn’t it.

“I pondered the most meaningful thing I could do with my life. I looked back to when I was 4 years old, to how my parents admired and respected physicians unlike any other profession. I came to realize that medicine truly was what I wanted to do all along. I simply wasn’t mature enough at age 18 to get it done. I wanted to give it another chance.”

He walked into the IBM general manager’s office and shared his medical school plans. Arnaldo recalls the elderly Argentinean man saying, “I’ve seen you growing up in this company. I have envisioned you in my position as GM one day. I think you’re making a big mistake but I admire your cojones.”

It was indeed an extraordinary decision, a pivotal moment in Arnaldo’s life.

“My dad died with regrets; I didn’t want to die that way. I wanted to give it my best. If I didn’t get into medical school, so be it. But I needed to try.”

IBM allowed him to take a leave of absence to enroll in a post baccalaureate, pre-med program at University of Miami to bridge his knowledge gap. It was a two-year program that IBM gave him one year to complete; he graduated in one year with a 3.97 GPA.

He had proven to himself. He continued working at IBM while awaiting replies from the 13 medical schools to which he had applied.

“I received 12 rejection letters, and an invitation for an interview at the University of Florida.”

One more obstacle surfaced. His car was stolen the day before his seven-hour drive for his interview in Gainesville, Fla. But he managed to get there and was admitted to the medical school.

He would finally pursue his childhood dream, sparked at age 4.

During his second year of medical school, his mother, Trini, then 69, began developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. She suffered from memory problems and depression, so Arnaldo began to focus his studies on neurology and psychiatry.

“By my fourth year, I had decided to pursue my specialty as a geriatric psychiatrist. I wanted to be sure she got the best care. I wanted her to receive the most up-to-date treatment. I wanted to help others with memory diseases and their families.”

Trini died at age 75, three years after she witnessed her only son graduating from medical school. His dream, and hers, finally realized.

Today Dr. Moreno, Geriatric Psychiatrist, is the Medical Director for Geriatric Psychiatry at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He is also an Assistant Professor of Clinical Geriatric Psychiatry at UC San Francisco, arguably one of the nation’s top medical schools.

“On a daily basis I manage several geriatric clinics at the VA hospital,” he explains. “I teach UCSF medical students, residents and geriatric fellows. I also oversee home visits to the veteran community and maintain a small private practice.”

He was honored with a UCSF School of Medicine Excellence in Teaching award last year.

Many of his patients use Spanish as their primary language. Plus, he brings a different level of empathy to his patients and their families, with first-hand knowledge of their struggles.

To current college students and graduates, Moreno says:

“Congratulations for having gotten to where you are today. You have likely chosen the right field for yourself. But you should never feel trapped if your passion evolves into something different in the future. A failure or setback should never dissuade you from achieving what you were meant to do. Instead, allow it to motivate you toward what awaits.”

To nominate someone for the Our American Dream series e-mail us at editorial@foxnewslatino.com.