Doctor of the year announced
By ERIC LINDBERG
Dr. Ralph Quijano always knew he wanted to be a doctor.
With a physician as a father, he nurtured an immediate interest in the profession, even at 5 years old. It seemed a foregone conclusion he would end up in medical school and private practice.
Many years and many births later, the obstetrics and gynecology specialist is still going strong.
In fact, he had just wrapped up another successful delivery when he sat down in his office on Micheltorena Street to chat about being named Physician of the Year by the Santa Barbara County Medical Society.
â€œEverything went well,â€? he said in reference to his latest delivery, adding later, â€œEach one is different. A lot of the time it is routine, but you have to be alert because things can change quickly.â€?
Since opening his private practice in Santa Barbara 25 years ago, Dr. Quijano has delivered more than 5,000 babies, along with performing surgeries and providing other OB/GYN-related medical care.
He also teaches occasionally, serves with the California Medical Association and volunteers in the community.
Lisa Reich, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Medical Society, said Dr. Quijano exemplifies the principles of the societyâ€™s mission â€” to strive to improve the quality of healthcare, advocate for universal access, contribute to the education of other physicians and give back to the community.
Congresswoman Lois Capps, who presented the award along with Mayor Marty Blum to Dr. Quijano during the societyâ€™s annual meeting earlier this week, agreed with Reich.
â€œI think it was an excellent choice,â€? she said. â€œIn so many ways, he stands out. He has really set a high bar with his private practice, heâ€™s a great family man and his work with the community is incredible.â€?
Capps met the doctor while working as a school nurse years ago and is impressed that heâ€™s still working hard.
â€œA lot of doctors after a while get tired of getting up in the middle of the night,â€? she said. â€œBut heâ€™s still delivering babies.â€?
During the celebratory dinner Tuesday evening, organizers displayed a slideshow covering Dr. Quijanoâ€™s life, as well as his familyâ€™s history in the medical profession â€” an experience the 55-year-old described as similar to â€œlistening to your own eulogy.â€?
His father was born in Mexico and attended medical school there before immigrating to the United States in the 1950s. While completing his residency in San Francisco, he met his future wife.
By the time his son was born, the elder Dr. Quijano had launched a practice in Paso Robles but eventually moved the family south to Santa Ana. He was a general practitioner, performing everything from delivering babies to removing tonsils.
Following in his fatherâ€™s footsteps, the younger Dr. Quijano had graduated from medical school at UC Irvine by 1979 and jumped into an internship in general surgery at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
After deciding that general surgery didnâ€™t feel like a great fit, he swapped for obstetrics and gynecology, ultimately serving his residency at Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz.
Now he has a good mix of surgeries, births and medical care that has kept his life interesting for the past two and a half decades.
â€œItâ€™s always fun,â€? he said.
Having been in practice for a quarter of a century now, Dr. Quijano has become a known entity in the community. Heâ€™s always bumping into folks he knows â€” including those he helped bring into the world years ago.
His volunteer work in Santa Barbara has undoubtedly contributed to his reputation. Dr. Quijano teaches through Los Marineros, performs sports physicals for local high schools and delivers babies for Villa Majella, an organization that offers support services for pregnant women in difficult life situations.
He also teaches sex education to sixth graders on occasion, serving as the specialist brought in to answer all the anonymous questions tossed into hat by students.
On top of his medical practice and volunteer work, Dr. Quijano also finds time to serve on the board of directors of CALPAC, the political arm of the California Medical Association. Heâ€™s also a delegate to the American Medical Association and lobbies on healthcare-related policy.
â€œItâ€™s not as exciting as delivery a baby, but I think itâ€™s necessary,â€? he said.
When asked about the Physician of the Year Award â€” heâ€™s the sixth recipient since the medical society established the honor â€” Dr. Quijano said heâ€™s humbled and a bit surprised.
â€œItâ€™s a real honor to be recognized by my peers,â€? he said, confessing that he initially thought, â€œGee, why am I getting this?â€?
As far as delivering babies, he said he still has a few more years in him, despite the fact that many OB/GYN doctors retire younger than he is now.
But he acknowledged that his career might start to slow down in the next few years, particularly when it comes to helping with births.
â€œItâ€™s a physically demanding job because youâ€™re up a lot in the middle of the night,â€? he said.
When he retires, Dr. Quijano said heâ€™s looking forward to spending more time outdoors, surfing and playing golf. He lamented missing out on a recent swell that brought decent waves to the local coastline; he was on call during the weekend.
A lifelong backpacker, he is also considering hiking the length of California along the Pacific Crest trail, a 2,600-mile trek that would take several months.
And while he expects to retire in the next decade, he said the family legacy might live on â€” his eldest son is considering medical school.