From Migrant Worker to Neurosurgeon: Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa Shares His Unbelievable Journey
12 May 2022
APB speaker and famed Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa—affectionally known as Dr. Q—was recently interviewed by José Díaz-Balart on the “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” podcast. Dr. Q spoke with Díaz-Balart about his impoverished childhood in a small village near Mexicali, Mexico, and how he went from a migrant worker picking tomatoes in Central California to Harvard Medical School to neurosurgeon.
Dr. Q’s childhood would never be called easy. The eldest of five children, he grew up in a two-bedroom house with no running water or electricity. But even though he had practically nothing, he always had his dreams.
“If you had asked me the American dream back in 1987, I would have told you the American dream was to buy a pair of high-top Nikes and a pair of Ray-Bans,” he said with a laugh. “But you see, life takes us through an amazing journey. Now, the American dream … I have the ability to touch someone else's life. That to me is what an American Dream means today.”
Touch someone’s life for sure. After permanently moving to the United States at 19, Dr. Q toiled by day as an undocumented migrant worker in the tomato fields and rail yards of Central California. On his days off, he attended biology classes at the San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. Then he became a gifted student at the University of California Berkeley before transferring to Harvard, where he received his medical degree and became a naturalized U.S. citizen, all before the age of 30.
After completing his residency at the University of California, San Francisco—where he also obtained a postdoctoral fellowship in developmental and stem cell biology and was funded by the National Institute of Health for his pioneer work—Dr. Q became a Professor of Neurosurgery and Oncology, Neuroscience and Cellular and Molecular Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In less than six years after starting there as a faculty member—a meteoric rise in academia.
Today Dr. Q is widely regarded as one of the world's finest surgeons and scientists, operating on some 250 brain tumors every year and leading cutting-edge federally funded research to cure brain cancer. He is the chair of the Department of Neurologic Surgery at Mayo Clinic's campus in Jacksonville, Florida. He is also the founder of Mission: Brain, a non-profit organization that provides neurosurgical expertise and resources to patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers in underserved areas throughout the world.
To end their conversation, Díaz-Balart asked Dr. Q what his message would be to his 11-year-old self. “It’s very simple,” Dr. Q says. “Take it easy. Enjoy the moment. I realized that in my desire to achieve and help people, I also have spent less time with my parents, my siblings, my own children. The price of triumph is ironic that sometimes you take time away from those you love to give to others.”