This month our VIP is Dr J Mauro Malja Santoyo.
Thank you for giving us some of your very valuable time.
Where were you born and what family do you have?
I was born in Mexico City. I have a brother, Dentist Adrian, a sister who lives in PV and another who lives in Merida. I adopted the daughter of my first wife, they both live in Arizona, the daughter is a translator in a hospital.
Did you grow up in a family who were in the medical fprofession?
No, there was nobody, but now of course my brother Adrian is a dentist and I have two cousins who have become Doctors.
Did you always want to be a Doctor?
No, not at all. My father was a printer – he had a large company with 70 employees, he wanted me to follow in his trade and be in partnership with my uncle. But I didn’t want to do that and I knew my uncle would one day end up taking it over entirely – which is actually what happened as soon as my father died – and which has since ended in bankruptcy.
I knew the only way to progress was through education. My father said he was not going to support me all of his life and that I had to make my own money.
So obviously you came to a turning point…
Yes. When I finished my preparatory school you have to make a choice. Honestly, I did not have a very strong idea which profession to follow. One day I visited a medical school in Mexico City – actually because I was attracted very much by the idea of studying architecture and it was a beautiful building. But inside they showed me the unfortunate dead embryos in the jars in the laboratories for research, and I felt something very special and that made up my mind.
Please tell us about your training.
Only approximately 10% of students go from Preparatory to University – the other 90% are not admitted because they are just not good enough. Some attend private University but they are very expensive and I could not afford that. In my year 30% were accepted. Evidently our Governments are not investing very much money in education. That’s at this level, there were more obstacles to come later on.
I was 18 years old, and there were 6 years of studying. Initially at University in Mexico City for 4 years – this was being in school basically, there was no practising. The training is very hard and you have to be dedicated. Of my group who I studied with, 80% never became doctors, they never finished their training for this career. Some were very wealthy and did not need to – and some were not capable enough. At medical school you have to be very persistent – and you have to take a lot from the superiors – it’s not easy.
In addition to the medical studies I had to learn the basics in English. I remember one day a friend started singing in English. I was very impressed and I said to myself – one of these days I need to speak that language! I continued studying the language independently down here – I like the language. I attended a couple of places but the teachers were not that good – I sometimes knew more than they did!
The 5th year you start practicing in hospitals. The 6th year you have to give over to the Social Services – so that for a year you are working almost free for the Government, and this happens at a Centro de Salud health centre.
Which Salud did you go to?
When I finished my 5th year, I was given a list of towns at three levels: (A) I would earn no money; (B) I would earn a little; (C) I would earn a little bit more than a little. My father said that enough was enough, I had to start supporting myself. He was right. So I took option (C) – and these towns are the worst places, they are more remote. Option A for example you can easily find inside Tepic or other major towns.
Most of my medical friends were from Sinaloa and they recommended that I go to Nayarit which they said was very beautiful – I didn’t know it at all. They also said the weather was not like in Sinaloa. My choice was to go to El Limon in the Tecuala municipality, as according to the map it was very close to Tepic. But where I ended up was ANOTHER El Limon – and this was very close to the Sinaloa border and had the same weather as Sinaloa! It was very rural – actually wild – and the weather was really extreme. The house provided for the Doctor by the government was in a terrible condition – it was raining more inside the house than outside! I was the only doctor at the Salud, the nearest doctor was 2 hours away and the nearest hospital was in Mazatlan. I had a nurse and that was it, and I was on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was extremely hard work and was a big test of my determination to remain as a Doctor.
It was not just the responsibility you have to take, in many cases you don’t have any choice. There is also the relationship with the people. I was born in a middle class, I would say upper middle class home, and then I came into contact with another level of Mexico which was completely different to anything I knew about. In fact the people in Northern Nayarit are completely different to those here – their culture is different. Actually they are more friendly – they made a big party when the Doctor arrived, food and beer, but they are also more violent and I had to be very careful. They are a lot calmer here.
So you survived that year – then what?
I finally got my diploma. Now I had to make a choice – to be a General Practitioner or to maybe follow a certain path, and at that time I was very interested in going into psychiatry – but there were no available places to study that in Mexico City. When you are studying at a public university there are very limited places available. We had lots of people coming in from Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, on a refugee status from South America, and they were given the privilege, the priority, to go into those places for political reasons. So there was not much left for the Mexican trained people. Private tuition was very expensive and out of the question.
So I decided to go into general practice and see how I liked it – and that’s what I have stayed doing.
We are all certainly very glad you did! What happened next?
I then worked for a year in Mexico City with a friend. We worked 12 hours each, alternating mornings and nights, giving a 24 hour service. After that one of my teachers from university came along and offered me work in San Pancho. I knew this area by then as I had friends practicing in Las Varas, La Penita and I had visited them.
This was 33 years ago. I, and a group of doctors in Mexico City, were engaged to open the San Pancho hospital – it had been built and was furnished but it was not operational. We were in charge of the inventory, hiring nurses, and personnel.
Initially the Government promised a house, food and salary. Well the house never existed and the food stopped after 2 months! Typical. But I decided to stay – and in the beginning I lived in the hospital, then I moved to Bucerias travelling everyday to the hospital.
That added to an already long day!
Actually it was not too bad. When I was in Mexico City my commute there was a good hour each day, both ways. At least here there was less traffic so the journey was only about 40 – 45 minutes. And it was calmer, much better for living. I did this for 10 years and then I quit, and set up my practice here in Bucerias, that was in 1990.
How often do you update your knowledge and where do you go to for this?
Every 2 to three times a year I go Mexico City to attend courses, it is very important. More frequently courses are being held in PV, but unfortunately most of those are in my office hours.
What do you think about Medical Tourism, the latest attraction to the area?
I think it’s ok – but it seems too expensive. Although probably not for people from America or Canada.
We see an increasing number of pharmacies – why is that?
Apart from catering to the ever increasing population, it is all about big business now – all these chains. They are pushing the smaller pharmacies out of business which is a great shame. It’s the demise of the couple running their own business and giving personal, caring service, now it’s just everybody becoming employees. And these places sell everything – newspapers, sandwiches, sweets…It’s the same in every field, there’s no regulations so the big businesses can come in and take over.
You’ve been in Bucerias a long time – what do you think of its development?
It’s growing – but not improving. Unlike Sayulita and San Pancho, there are big differences there.
You’re so busy treating your patients – how is YOUR health?
Incredibly good I’m pleased to say! I never get sick. I have a lot of stress, but for some reason I can cope with that. I give myself a little medical – blood pressure etc and I walk a minimum of half an hour every day with my four dogs (I used to have six!).
When you get some spare time – what do you like to do?
Reading mainly. In Spanish. Mexican history is fascinating. And also mysteries.
When you attend social events, do people come up to you and say, for example: “Can I just ask one question?”
Yes they do! But it’s more Mexicans than non Mexicans, they think you have to be available 24 hours a day. In fact the first doctors here had to be available like that! Apparently one of the first doctors here was black, and that was back when Bucerias only had 50 houses.
We don’t want you to retire – but when is that likely to happen?
I have some projects I am involved in – I want to finish a place I am having built on the highway. It will give Adrian much bigger premises for his business and when it is finished I will move in upstairs. At that time I will cut down so that I am only working part time. I might go away for a while.
Where have you been outside of Mexico – and where would you like to go to?
I have been to Canada, America and Cuba. Where do I want to go to ? Oh lots of places! I especially want to travel in Central America. I’d like to see Europe but that takes money, and time – not just two weeks.
Do you have a few words of medical advice for our visitors?
Everyone needs to be careful about the sun, and excessive drinking – and to forget the stress! I recommend you have inoculations against Hepatitis A. For this one you should call me and I will order the vaccine. I also recommend a tetanus shot – you have to go the Salud as that vaccine is under Governmental control.
What about malaria and dengue fever?
It’s not worth it for either of them: There have not been any reported cases of malaria in this area for at least 20 years. The inoculation against dengue is not even 80% effective.
And finally: any regrets in your life?
I am happy with the way I live, but the regrets are that in many cases people are not just patients, many of them become friends, which makes it even harder when someone dies.
Thank you again for your time and for being such an important part of our community.
Dr Mauro’s surgery is located on Hidalgo near the corner of Mexico. No appointment necessary. 9 – 2pm
Tel: 298 0149
His cell number for emergencies: 322 137 1093