PHOTOGRAPHED BY DAN AUSTIN
For Dr. Gustavo De Jesus, opening Vein & Vascular Experts did not come without great time and investment. His journey incorporates family influence, academic discipline, tough decisions, and a dedication to always put his family first.
With a father as a urologist and a mother as teacher, hard work and grit ran through Gustavo De Jesus’ veins. He grew up in a highly driven family that pushed him to value education and strive for big dreams. Born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico, it was there that De Jesus would begin a long journey into the medical profession.
While in his pre-med studies at the University of Puerto Rico, De Jesus pursued a bachelor’s in biology and a minor in anthropology. “If you were going to ask me, I was going to be an archaeologist somewhere just digging up bones and being bohemic in that way,” jokes De Jesus. Although he did well in school, he felt a lot of pressure to follow in the footsteps of his brothers and father. His oldest brother is also a doctor, and his other brother is a dentist. De Jesus is the youngest sibling, and his father looked at him to continue on as a surgeon just like himself. “He looks at me and goes, ‘Hey, come with me. Let’s see if you’d like to do this.’ So I went to surgery with him and I really enjoyed it, so I knew I wanted to do something like that,” De Jesus says.
He went on to complete four years of medical school. He graduated in 2002 magna cum laude from the University of Puerto Rico Medical School. After that, “The only next logical step was into general surgery,” De Jesus says. He continued onward in his academic pursuits with the intention of only training in general surgery — a training that can be up to a five- to six-year commitment.
“I was midway through my training, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be a general surgeon.’” – Dr. Gustavo De Jesus
But, after halfway through his third year, things changed. “I was midway through my training, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be a general surgeon,’” De Jesus says. Then, he took a step back to evaluate his next move and figure out what he truly loved to do. He knew he enjoyed the process of surgery but did not feel at peace about staying only on the path of general surgery. “I started thinking about it a lot, and I realized what I enjoyed doing the most was fixing arteries and veins,” he says. So, midway through his general surgery pursuits, De Jesus decided to investigate a new field of study.
Due to high crime in Puerto Rico, this provided many opportunities for practicing in the field of vascular surgery. “People are coming in with stabs and gunshot wounds, and it doesn’t matter what I’m doing at the time … I’m getting phone calls from people saying, ‘Hey, we got another one for you.’ So I go in there and I fix them up,” he says. Mind you, De Jesus is still in school at this point. “I’m not a surgeon yet, so I’m trying to figure it out,” he recounts.
This fast-paced, hands-on experience provided De Jesus with not only more practice in the vascular field, but more insight if this was truly the profession he would want to continue pursuing. “The more I did it, the more I liked it,” he says. However, vascular surgery was a rare field of study in Puerto Rico. So De Jesus found himself finishing out his training in general surgery in Puerto Rico, graduating in 2008. He then relocated to the U.S. mainland to study vascular surgery in Tampa at the University of South Florida.
Vascular surgery training takes about two years to complete. “I think I aged 20 in those two years because those guys drilled me,” De Jesus jokes. “You ask my wife, those two years were so hard.” De Jesus looks back to this training with great fondness and is thankful for his experience at Tampa General Hospital. “The amount of knowledge and work those guys gave me made me not only a vascular surgeon, but a better overall surgeon.”
After completing comprehensive training in vascular and endovascular surgery in 2010, De Jesus earned his spot as the go-to vascular surgeon in San Juan. “My practice exploded,” he says. The plan was always to go back to Puerto Rico after completing school in Tampa. De Jesus had aspirations of opening his own practice, and he succeeded, but something still did not feel right. “It was affecting my quality of life. It was affecting my family life,” he says. There was a huge crime wave in Puerto Rico at this time; many homes were being invaded and this caused great concern for De Jesus and his wife who were wanting to add a third child in the mix. “We are Puerto Rican. We love our country. We love our island. But family comes first,” says De Jesus.
When asked how his parents responded to the decision to move, De Jesus says, “They hated it.” His parents were born and raised Puerto Ricans, and the idea of their son leaving the island to plant roots elsewhere was unsettling. “Me moving to Florida was not with their blessing,” he says. De Jesus, his wife, and their children moved to Florida against all odds. “It was a decision I and my wife had to make for ourselves and our children.” A lot of their family understands and are supportive, but then others “look at me like a sellout,” says De Jesus. It was a difficult decision, but De Jesus and his family made the move to back to the mainland. “You can’t make everyone happy. But my wife is happy, and I’m happy, and that’s what counts.”
Still aspiring to start his own practice on the mainland, De Jesus began to interview in several places throughout Florida but did not want to settle back in Tampa. “I really respect the people who trained me, so I didn’t want to compete with them — even though no one could really compete with them,” he says.
De Jesus eventually accepted a contract with Bartow Regional Medical Center. “Not because they were going to pay me more,” he says. “I came here with my wife, and after the first day, it felt like home. I know it sounds corny, but I don’t know how to explain it.” Their family instantly connected with Lakeland and felt confident that this was where they wanted to plant their roots. “Our main focus was our family,” says De Jesus.
After finishing his contract at Bartow Regional as an employed physician, De Jesus opened a clinic in North Lakeland called Choice Healthcare as a part-owner. He continued to seek more knowledge in vein and vascular surgery and opportunities to grow in the medical field. De Jesus eventually parted ways with Choice Healthcare to start up his most recent business venture.
Vein & Vascular Experts opened this past March with a mission to provide personalized, high-quality care. This brand-new, state-of-the-art facility is a full-service varicose vein clinic and vascular surgery practice. Because of De Jesus’ background in both general surgery and vascular surgery, he is able to offer a wide range of surgical options. “I bring the knowledge of being able to treat vascular conditions not only with open surgery, but also with minimally invasive treatments,” he says.
With only occupying this space for a short amount of time, Vein & Vascular Experts has already established itself as a reputable practice in Polk County. However, De Jesus cannot credit such success to himself alone. “Not only do I have the knowledge and technique, but I also have a staff with more than 20 to 25 years of experience.”
Many of the current staff have worked with De Jesus in the past, and he is thankful for the skill and expertise they bring to the practice. Believing in cultivating a collaborative team effort, De Jesus takes advantage of the many years of knowledge amongst his staff. “They are my right-hand people,” he says.
“You can’t get into something for the money. If you want to be a doctor or nurse, you have to love what you do.” – Dr. Gustavo De Jesus
However, it was a long journey for De Jesus and his family, one that did not come without hard work and sacrifice. “It’s not like we moved here and opened up shop and everything miraculously happened,” he says. Even after the time and financial investment in higher education, De Jesus emphasizes the necessity of being a lifelong learner while in the medical field. “I still read almost every day,” he says. And although the financial investment is surely paying back its dividends these days, De Jesus says, “You can’t get into something for the money. If you want to be a doctor or nurse, you have to love what you do. Are there things that I need to do that I don’t like? Of course. But the actual work, the actual taking care of people and making them better and seeing them smile, that’s amazing.”
Although it has been a long journey, it seems that this process paved a way for De Jesus to truly invest in a career that gives back far more than he could have ever imagined.