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Stethoscope head lying on medical forms closeup

Dr. Maria T. Llopiz: Coming to America

Fleeing a communist regime, she climbed up the ranks of medicine to achieve the American dream.

I arrived for my appointment and a medical assistant opened the door at the doctor’s clinic. Entering the office, she signaled me to wait. In just a few seconds, the doctor walks in still speaking to a patient outside.

“Don’t worry Mirta, it’s exactly what we hoped for,” she said. Curiously, she was holding a bag of bananas. Naturally, I was curious and asked why. “Some patients can’t pay with money, so they do the best they can,” she answered.

I think that moment itself encapsulates everything about her. She sat down and proceeded to let me in on her story of persistence, faith, and the American dream. Maria Teresa Llopiz, PhD ENT, is an otorhinolaryngologist, specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, and surgery of disorders of the nose, throat, ear, and related structures of the head and neck.

Faced with New Challenges

Due to political persecution, Dr. Llopiz fled her homeland of Cuba in 1992. Along with her two children, 4- and 10-years old, she was able to secure a plane ride to the United States. She was a single mother in a strange country, no longer having a valid medical license to work. She took on odd jobs to keep the family fed while studying to revalidate her medical license in a new language.

“It’s what I was born to do. And I wanted to give my children a good life,” she continued.

They moved into a tiny studio apartment in a dangerous district. There, she persevered. Besides being a foreigner and the initial language barrier, the medical field can be daunting for a woman.

“Especially in my culture, women have to fight three times as hard to reach the status as a man. But generally, all Cuban doctors are especially good at what they do,” she continued.

Cuban doctors are particularly heralded as the top of their field around the world. They are usually sent abroad in their studies. Castro’s two main points during, and after, the revolution were universal healthcare and free education. That was the revolution’s investment in its people. This left Cubans highly educated, albeit drained of resources. There are three times more doctors in Cuba per person than in the United States.

Above, her beach home in Cuba.

It’s nearly impossible for Cuban doctors to revalidate their licenses. U.S. policy regarding foreign-trained doctors essentially strips away their credentials upon arrival. The system seems stacked against them and only unyielding perseverance will make the difference.

First, there’s the obvious language barrier, both social, and professional. At 35 years of age, as if relearning medicine wasn’t difficult enough, she had to immerse herself in learning the language. To finish the process, she had to complete two years of internship at a hospital. These programs are flooded with new, young, English-speaking medical school graduates applying for the same internship, leaving older foreign doctors out of the running. However, every few years by law, Cuban physicians are allowed to intern at clinics instead of hospitals. Dr. Llopiz took this route after much frustration with the difficult process.

A Dream Hard Won

Reaching this stage allowed her to begin making a living while she interned under a doctor. Unfortunately, she suspected that the clinic was hiding something. She discovered unlawful methods, including fraud, were being utilized. Being a moral and decent person, Dr. Llopiz promptly left and searched for another internship. That clinic was raided and the staff was arrested shortly thereafter.

“Getting my license back felt like they returned my soul. Medicine is in my blood, it’s my passion. I would die before I gave it up,” she said.

Thankfully, she found another internship and worked under a benevolent doctor who did things by the book and was very kind to her and her children. It looked like this would be her saving grace, until he suffered a cardiac event and unexpectedly passed away. Whereas most would give up at this point, she persevered to finish her internship under another and finally gained her license.

Establishing Roots

A long-time patient, Maria Tejeda said, “Both when I lived in Cuba, then when I came here in 2000, La Doctora (The doctor in Spanish, referring to Dr. Llopiz) is the only person I trust to take care of me and my family.”

Her tenacity eventually broke through the glass ceiling. Dr. Llopiz is now a member of the Age Management Medicine Group (AMMG), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the Florida Medical Association (FMA). She has been doing aesthetic procedures, using her otorhinolaryngology specialty as an advantage in the treatment of her patients with outstanding results. She is currently practicing as an otorhinolaryngology specialist in Miami Florida, staying informed and active in the latest procedures and techniques.

Freedom to Thrive

A communist regime couldn’t stop her from working her way to the top, and her skills and passion did not let her down in her new country either. She is followed by hundreds of patients anywhere she goes, providing services such as endoscopies, balance therapy, Botox, and hearing aids.

“With enough passion, courage, and desire to learn, nothing is impossible,” she said as we finished the interview and the assistant let in the next patient.

Learn more about the doctor who wouldn’t quit to achieve the American dream at Llopizmedical.com.