Sutures and service
Veteran and trauma surgeon Robert Borrego, MD ’84, gives back through a dedication to teaching and patient care
Just behind the front lines in Iraq, Robert Borrego, MD ’84, spent four months inside a U.S. Army medical tent stitching wounds and saving the lives of soldiers and children injured in the war in 2003.
He had joined the Army Reserve years before, after volunteering to be on standby as a surgeon during the Gulf War, but it wasn’t until the Iraq War that he was called to serve on active duty. For the UF College of Medicine alumnus, his military experience with a small, mobile surgical team allowed him to give back to the country that became his family’s second home.
When Borrego was 9 years old, he and his mother, father and three siblings left Cuba’s political unrest and moved to Miami. Initially wanting to pursue marine biology because of his love for water sports and his father’s career as a fisherman, Borrego was swayed when an adviser in college noticed his affinity for science and people and recommended that he consider a career in medicine.
Borrego found his calling in surgery as a third-year medical student at UF and specialized in trauma and critical care as a resident and fellow at the State University of New York and the University of Miami.
Decades later, he still strives to improve patient outcomes and medical education using skills from his military service and his passion for teaching the next generation.
“In trauma surgery, we get the worst of the worst — but you get to make quick decisions that make a big difference in patients’ outcomes,” Borrego says. “I think I was cut out for that. I like the excitement; I like making decisions on the spot, and I love surgery.”
The skills and friends he gained at UF made a difference during his time in the Army as a lieutenant colonel, Borrego says. During boot camp, he trained with fellow College of Medicine alumnus Timothy Floyd, MD ’82. They were a year apart at UF and in boot camp but became fast friends and served together on the same forward surgical team in Iraq.
Spending 20 years in the Army Reserve and volunteering for active duty in Iraq was the best decision of his career, Borrego says, because it taught him to listen and provide thorough but timely care for lifethreatening injuries.
Now, as the trauma medical director and chief of surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital in West Palm Beach and an associate professor of surgery at Florida Atlantic University, Borrego is helping to train rotating medical students and residents to become tomorrow’s top trauma surgeons. He looks forward to growing the teaching program at St. Mary’s Hospital and aims to start a surgical fellowship on top of the residency program’s success. And although he is no longer part of the military, Borrego still serves the U.S. with St. Mary’s as part of the White House Medical Unit, a health care network that provides worldwide emergency action response and comprehensive medical care to the U.S. president, vice president and their families.
In his free time, Borrego enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife, Cori, and two children, Roberto and Alexa. They especially like the beach, he says, where they can go boating, swimming, diving and fishing, as Borrego did with his own father growing up.
“I got a great education from medical school at the University of Florida College of Medicine, and it’s an honor to have been able to do this for so many years,” he says. “I feel privileged to be a trauma surgeon, to have been part of the military and to take care of people every single day.”
This story originally ran in the Spring 2023 issue of the Doctor Gator newsletter.