He never thought he could achieve it but his dream came true. Two months ago, Dr. Rene Sotelo became the second foreign doctor to practice at the medical centers of University of Southern California (USC) without ever having studied in this country.
His work as a pioneer and forerunner in the use of robotics to perform a minor surgery to treat prostate cancer and other complex diseases in Latin America allowed this urologist to enter the United States via its front door — unlike millions who have struggled.
“I was fully trained in Venezuela but I worked a lot in Colombia and Mexico. My father was Mexican and I have my medical license from Mexico and Colombia. Nearly two years ago, due to the situation in Venezuela, I said at the American Urology Congress that I would go to those countries more often but they told me, ‘why don’t you come to the United States?’ But I didn’t see how that was possible since I had no residence and I hadn’t taken the necessary exams,” he recalls.
“They then told me about a license that the Medical Board grants for extraordinary abilities. They grant only a few. They have only granted one to a Japanese doctor at USC. It took the Board more than a year to check if he really had the experience and qualifications, and whether it was true that he was doing surgery in over 20 countries. I passed and was granted the license to practice,” he says, happily.
“I think that, being number one in robotic surgery in Venezuela and Latin America probably helped me. I’m the only one who has performed more surgeries with robots. I installed the robotic surgery program in Colombia and Brazil. Venezuela was the first country where I began robotic surgery and we went to train other surgeons in Latin America,” said Dr. Sotelo, who has been a urologist for more than 22 years.
Something that drew attention about the Venezuelan doctor was the creation of several surgical techniques that were important for the United States and did not exist in the world. Those techniques were published in leading scientific journals in urology.
Some of these techniques include the use of robots for surgery on complex urinary fistulas; and the development of new concepts of surgery through natural orifices in the navel that involved minimal invasion.
Because of his achievements, hundreds of Latin American patients visited him in Caracas, and allowed him to win over 21 awards from scientific and governmental organizations worldwide. Besides, his passion for research and teaching led him to teach his techniques in 19 countries. He has taught more than 64 graduate courses in 14 countries about minimally invasive urology.
Now, he wants to make the most of the latest technology and equipment that USC has, that he never got to experiment with in Venezuela. However, he also wishes to continue his work in Latin America.
“We are already receiving patients from abroad but we also want to help the Latin American doctors who want to come. I’ve been amazed with the quality of vision and detail of the new robot they have here at USC. When I saw it, I asked Dr. Inderbill Gill —head from the Department of Urology— ‘who would not work with this?’ and he responded, ‘Welcome to America!’
What can other Latin American doctors do to follow your example?
The first thing they can do is come to the United States as observers. I started to go to the Cleveland Clinic as an observer. Yet, more importantly, one must be disciplined and collect medical data on the results and monitor the patient. It is the only way to publish and put them on the spot. When there is no discipline, it is very difficult for them [doctors] to excel and come to America.
Clarifying the Myths
Dr. Sotelo says that, sexual activity and promiscuity have nothing to do with prostate cancer.
“Geography, genetics and diet have to do with that but there is no concrete evidence. It is known that, in countries with plenty of sunshine, the incidence is lower than in countries where there is none. It is known that there are not many cases in Japan, but when Japanese citizens come to the United States, it increases in the second generation. It was known that there was no link with smoking, but now there are some studies that say the opposite. So what I recommend is to have an annual check-up, have a healthy and balanced diet, and to avoid excess of protein.”
Dr. Sotelo is the author of Do not be Afraid of the Finger, which seeks to educate men and their families, in a simple way, not to be afraid to have an annual check-up for fear that they will find something.
“All diseases, including prostate cancer can be cured if they are diagnosed early, and for fear of the check-up, it is often late,” he says. After 50, men should have an annual prostate diagnosis, he says.