Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

A migrant worker’s journey to becoming a brain surgeon

Saahas Kumbamu
St. Johns, Florida, United States

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels

A year ago my parents gifted me Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon,the autobiography of Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, co-written by Mim Eichler Rivas. The book chronicles the remarkable journey of Dr. Q from Mexican migrant farm worker in Mendota, California to an esteemed brain surgeon, initially at Johns Hopkins and now at Mayo Clinic. His story details the many hardships of making it in America while highlighting the necessity of painstaking determination.

Dr. Q’s curiosity and ambition were evident even during his childhood in the village of Palaco in Mexico. As a young boy, Alfredo would gaze at the sky and shoot stones in the air using a slingshot to hit a star. This early display of determination—literally shooting for the stars—foreshadowed the drive and success that would define his life. As a young adult, he traveled to Mendota to join his uncle to work on a farm during a time of financial crisis for his family. Exhibiting remarkable selflessness, he prioritized his family’s needs over his own. He refrained from spending his money on clothing for himself, instead giving it all back to his family.

One of the first examples of his perseverance was when he hopped the fence between Mexico and the U.S. After getting caught by the border patrol on his first attempt, he was returned to Mexico. Undeterred, he made a daring and desperate second attempt, managing to successfully cross the border.

Another display of his character was his optimism, manifested through his reactions to naysayers. When he was working as a migrant worker, his cousin expressed doubts, suggesting that Alfredo would always remain at that farm and never pursue a different path. This prompted Alfredo to enroll in night classes at San Joaquin Delta College. He faced similar challenges later at Harvard and the University of South California when people questioned his suitability for a medical career because of his Hispanic background. He responded to these doubts not by arguing or wallowing in self-pity, but by proving them wrong. His success became the most powerful rebuttal of those who doubted him.

After attending San Joaquin Delta College, Alfredo applied on the advice of a peer to the University of California, Berkeley. On completing his undergraduate degree, he attended Harvard Medical School. The anecdotes he shares from those times offer a humanizing perspective on his journey. For instance, he recollects a humorous experience with one of his classmates, challenging him to a Stairmaster competition. He also discusses the challenges he faced, such as having to cram a truckload of information before a major chemistry exam, managing to grasp the material in a limited amount of time.

Dr. Q had several near-death experiences throughout his journey. He once fell into a railway fuel tank and found himself at its bottom, only narrowly escaping. His account also reveals the sacrifices he made, such as the long hours at the hospital that led to forgotten family occasions, dates with his wife, and even her birthday.

One of the most crucial parts of Dr. Q’s journey was his experience with diverse patients during his residency at the University of California San Francisco and later at Johns Hopkins. These different patient accounts, though varied, are all connected by their shared medical condition. These stories also show the true purpose of being a doctor; they show that while the doctor helps the patient, the patient also helps the doctor, forming a mutualistic relationship. The doctor is then able to use the lessons learned from those patients to improve the lives of many others.

Dr. Q’s journey to success was far from predetermined; at times, it appeared as though he was improvising his own life path. There is a beauty in this unpredictability, especially for individuals whose future is a bit foggy and undetermined. He would not have made it nearly so far in life without discipline, hard work, and passion. His story serves as a compelling reminder of the value of resolute ambition, courage in uncertainty, resilience in hardship, and the great reward of following one’s imagination and passion.


  • Quinones-Hinojosa A, Rivas ME. Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon. Rochester: Mayo Clinic Press; 2023.

SAAHAS KUMBAMU, 10th grade, St. Johns, Florida, US.

Winter 2024



3 responses

  1. So deeds must always match thoughts or sometimes more than Mach thoughts.Saahas has clarity in thought process.Ask him to nurture human qualities like passion and sincerity convey my greetings to him

  2. Congratulations Saahas ❤️

  3. Engaging and well written , Saahas. Great Jib.

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