Burrell College Board Member Feature: Denise Gonzales, MD 

Denise Gonzales, MD, is the Medical Director of Adult Medical Specialties for Presbyterian Medical Group, as well as a pulmonary and critical care physician, working with patients with breathing disorders and those who need critical care. Dr. Gonzales joined the organization in 2007 and became the founding medical director of Presbyterian’s first 21st-century hospital, Presbyterian Rust Medical Center, located in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. In her role as medical director of Adult Medical Specialties, she leads a group of physicians who deliver highly specialized care to adults.

In addition to her role on the board of the Burrell College, Dr. Gonzales is also a member of the board of The ASK Academy, a science, technology, engineering, and math innovation school in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. The ASK Academy is a 6-12 grade public school that focuses on encouraging student’s passion for STEM learning, in order to prepare them for careers in engineering, design, or biomedical science. She has also been inducted as a Fellow in the Society of Critical Care Medicine, the largest non-profit medical organization dedicated to promoting excellence and consistency in the practice of critical care.

Dr. Gonzales was born and raised along the U.S.-Mexico border in rural southern New Mexico. Her childhood experiences fostered her passion for improving the lives of others, particularly for those disadvantaged communities. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering, she went on to complete her medical degree from the University of New Mexico and then fulfilled her residency training in internal medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center. She then completed the joint National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins Pulmonary and Critical Care fellowship program.

Dr. Gonzales thrives in her hospital-based clinical practice, as a bedside educator and physician leader. Her mission to improve the health of all New Mexicans includes changing the way we deliver care, by using telemedicine to access rural communities and focusing on population health.

Recently, Dr. Gonzales was featured in a prominent PBS documentary called, Vaccination from the Misinformation Virus. The documentary explains why vaccines are safe despite the digital misinformation surrounding them. To watch the documentary, click here.

 

Q&A Session with Dr. Denise Gonzales

Dr. Gonzales was awarded the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award for the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine.

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine?   

A: I was initially drawn to science and biomedical engineering but realized that I really wanted to be directly involved with people and directly impact them rather than indirectly in basic science.


Q: May you tell me a little of the educational/professional background that led you to this point in your career?   

A: I worked as a lab tech on weekends at Mass General Hospital. It helped me understand healthcare better and introduced me to mentors who helped me along my path.

 

Q: As a medical director, what are some of the more significant challenges you have faced?   

A: I initially started as the Chief Medical Officer for a brand new hospital. That had a lot of interesting challenges. Then I switched to managing a bunch of clinics. I have never had a clinic myself and that was yet another challenge. Overall my approach is to dive in and understand all the things my stakeholders experience so that I can best advocate for them.

 

In 2011, Dr. Gonzales helped facilitate the opening of the Rust Medical Center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.

Q: How did you come to join the board of trustees for the College?   

A: I was recommended by a colleague and friend with whom I went to school. Dr. Ruy Carrasco is from Roswell, New Mexico, and he and I worked on a medical school project together. He has a friend who worked for Rice Management Company and Ruy connected us. It was because of that introduction from someone I trusted and from another local New Mexican that I agreed to explore the opportunity. Relationships are so important in life.

 

Q: What advice do you have for Burrell medical students as they anticipate a career in medicine?   

A: Don’t decide on a specialty until just before the match. Keep your mind open. I originally thought about pursuing oncology, then med/peds, then trauma, then finally I landed on pulmonary and critical care.

 

Q: Regarding the PBS documentary, what is the most significant piece of information you would like people to take away regarding vaccines and misinformation?   

A: The internet has been one of the most impactful inventions of the 21st century (really came about in the 80’s when I was in college). Unfortunately, it’s not validated. By design, it’s “crowdsourced” like Wikipedia. It can provide just as much information as misinformation.