I started working as an apprentice in a clinical lab in Juarez, Mexico, when I was 14 years old. I had told my mother that I had an interest in medicine and science, and she introduced me to Dr. Ricardo Ortiz Piñeru and his assistant Daniel Chavez Licón. Dr. Ortiz was the former director of the medical school in Juarez, and mom had been his secretary. In fact, it was he who did the urine test to find out that mom was pregnant with me.
When I was 16 and started college, I decided to get a degree in laboratory medicine so I could build on the training I received at Dr. Ortiz’s lab. Daniel taught me a lot, and I took all that training with me. By the time I finished college, I got a great job up in Pennsylvania. Their knowledge and wisdom still travels with me today.
It’s been over 20 years since I felt the overwhelming nervousness of drawing blood, of preparing the lab analyzes, and of doing laboratory analyses that impacted people’s lives. Since then, I’d like to think that I’ve grown a little bit and become someone of whom Dr. Ortiz would be proud if he were still alive. And I’d like to think that I’ve impacted people’s lives through my work.
All of this has come to an end today. It was completely by choice and because opportunities have appeared to better prepare me as a practicing epidemiologist. The jobs that I had as a lab tech on the weekends or once in a while have ended. I am no longer a “lab boy.”
It’s okay. All things change. I now have to make sure that the things I learned from the lab come with me on my journeys and in my professional experiences. I must continue to give life to the memory of those I’ve lost who have mentored me as a lab tech and as a person.
It’s bittersweet, but all good things must come to an end.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.