I recently had the opportunity to talk to the first Maternal-Fetal Medicine physician in the United States who was born on the Cape Verde Islands, Veronica Maria Pimentel.
So what was Dr. Pimentel’s journey like?
“I was born in Ribeira Brava, S. Nicolau and grew up on the footsteps of the hospital. As a little girl, I used to travel with the medical team to the outskirts of the island as they provided care to the population. I was fascinated by the knowledge, leadership and empathy of the physicians and wanted to be like them. My father passed away when I was 2 years old and I was raised by my mother literally inside her store. I learned to care for customers, negotiate and address their concerns from a very young age. At the age of 12, my mom sent me to S. Vicente to study because our island did not have a high school. At 14, we came to the United States. My first year in the U.S, I was placed in bilingual Spanish-English classes because the educators assumed that Spanish was “just like Portuguese” and that immigrants were not prepared for higher-level classes. That experience was instrumental to my education. I learned to speak Spanish fluently, which has allowed me to connect with and understand so many of my patients. I also learned to advocate for myself in a system that was completely different from the one was used to.”
Dr. Pimentel went on to describe here career.
“I am a board certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist (ObGyn). This past June, I completed a three-year sub-specialty fellowship in Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York with a focus in both clinical research and global health. As far as I know, I am the first MFM physician in the United States who was born in the Cape Verde Islands. I don’t believe there are any MFM physicians in Cape Verde either. I hope I am the first of many more. As a MFM physician, I take care of pregnant women who are considered to be “high risk” because either the mom or the baby has a complication. I perform ultrasounds to diagnose birth defects and prenatal testing to check for genetic disorders. I serve as a consultant for other Obstetricians to guide them with diagnosis and management of high risk conditions in pregnancy. I also conduct research aimed at reducing maternal morbidity and mortality, and I teach resident physicians and medical students.”
How has your culture and community helped you in life and in your career?
“When I came to the United States in 1992, I was welcomed by a vibrant Cape Verdean Community in Waterbury, CT that made my transition a lot smoother. My community believes that every generation should do better than the previous one. I saw how hard they worked, mostly in factories, to provide their children with better opportunities. I understood that it was my responsibility to be diligent, pursue my calling for Medicine and serve as a role model for other immigrant children, especially those of Cape Verdean descent. After spending 4 years in Boston in residency and 3 years in New York in fellowship, the community has welcomed me back to CT with open arms. I am very happy to be back in CT.”
What are you plans for the future?
“I am very excited about the future. I want to become more involved in advocacy and education. I am a firm believer that investments in maternal health translate into improved health of the entire family. Women’s healthcare is currently under enormous attack. It is crucial that those of us who understand the science and know the facts make our voices heard. I also want to create a network of professional Cape Verdeans that can serve as examples, if not mentors to the younger generation. I created the Facebook page “Cape Verdeans to Know,” which profiles Cape Verdeans that are making a strong positive difference in their profession and community. I am in the process of revitalizing the Cape Verdean – American Medical Alliance, an organization I created as a medical student whose goal is to advance Medicine in the Cape Verdean community through advocacy, education, research and service. At the moment, I am working on developing research collaboration with physicians in Cape Verde and laying the foundation for the creation of a student scholarship in Cape Verde. On a more personal level, I have a long list of things I want to learn to do, including painting, kizomba, and chess.”