Introducing a little bit about George Berdejo before the questions were answered. He is the Manager of the Montefiore Medical Center and Weiler Center Noninvasive Vascular Laboratories in the Bronx in New York City, the best in the city. He is a man of all men. He is someone to look up to. He has very similar aspirations as I do in medicine. He is very unique and I think you will all love to hear about him. George has had an interesting life so far in his career. He started and continues to have a Internationally Recognized Conference called the Advances in Vascular Imaging and Diagnosis Symposium each November since 1990. I now bring you the interview that will tell the story of George L. Berdejo.
An interview with George Berdejo….
JR: What made you want to become a Vascular Technologist?
GB: It was totally serendipitous. I had no idea that I would ever do ultrasound. I was in college working on a business degree and was employed as a ward clerk in the ICU at Montefiore (his mother was Director of Nursing Payroll at Montefiore). Serendipitous event #1. There was a job opening in the Vascular Lab as a billing clerk, at the urging of a nurse friend in the ICU named Ann Kelly, I applied and was hired for the job.
JR: So, what happened next?
GB: Serendipitous event #2. One of the techs, Nancy Whitlock, got pregnant and left the job. I was offered her position. In 1986, I started doing PVR’s and Duplex Ultrasound. For the record, Duplex Vascular Ultrasound was relatively new and still very much evolving at the time. Nancy and I remain friends to this day, although she is no longer in the business
JR: Did you have any medical background before this?
GB: No, I did not have any medical background, all my training was done “on the job”. There were not many established ultrasound schools at the time.
JR: What did you find most intriguing about Vascular Ultrasound?
GB: What I found most intriguing was that you can use this wand that looks inside the body and provide diagnoses that help doctors make life impacting decisions.
JR: What makes the circulatory system so interesting to you?
GB: It was not so much the circulatory system as much as it was the relative independence that has been given to the technologist who practices in the vascular ultrasound sub specialty and the ability to use some of the physiologic testing modalities that has led me to be a rarity, i.e. a single modality credentialed sonographer whose only focus is the vascular system and the diagnosis of the various disease processes that can affect it…….I remember performing a Carotid Duplex on my dad when he had symptoms of a stroke in 1986.
JR: Do you feel that you saved your dad’s life?
GB: I don’t know about that, but I do know that at the time I was very relieved about the fact that the test was normal and my dad was not in danger of having a stroke resulting from carotid artery disease.
JR: Do you think that your father and your mom who recently passed away, are very proud of what you are today?
GB: I am sure they would be they worked hard and modeled the way for me and my brothers. I owe to them, especially my mom, all of what I have accomplished in my lifetime.
JR: What made you want to do the RVT from ARDMS?
GB: I wanted to be the best that I could be at what I was doing…in vascular ultrasound that meant acquiring the RVT credential. Also it meant I would make more money (laughing).
JR: Wasn’t the field mostly females back then?
GB: Yes, that is true. Males were an anomaly in the field because many of the early technologists were vascular nurses who transitioned into the field of vascular ultrasound.
JR: What would you recommend for others to become just like you?
GB: In the end you have to be who you are and the best you, that you can be. In order to be a success in the business, I think it’s important to find people who are willing to invest in you and in your future. I don’t mean money, I speak of mentoring. Find people who are willing to share and impart knowledge. Here’s a tip: when you look for your first job, it’s not how much money you are making, but how much an employer is willing to pour into you. I’m also a voracious reader, always have been. You have to be learning constantly, if you’re not learning you are dying. Never think that you have reached the pinnacle, there’s always something new to learn.
JR: When did you become the Technical Director?
GB: In 1988, but it was a circuitous route to that position. Serendipitous event #3. I worked as a staff tech at Montefiore from ’86-’88 and then, through my Director, Barbara Rhodes and Cheryl Montefusco, I met a man named Ernie Winkle who started his own mobile Vascular Technology practice in long island. I was offered a one year contract and joined him and his business. Less than 6 months later the business had dried up, so I was getting paid by the company but there were no patients to scan. Serendipitous event #4. At about this time, the directors of the lab at Montefiore both resigned essentially leaving the lab unmanned. Not long after, I get a call from a man named Steve Levine (he had married Ann Kelly by this time) who asked if I could help cover the lab until they could find permanent full time help. I covered the lab for a bit, and then was offered the job as Technical Director which I accepted in October of 1988. Serendipitous event #5. In the meantime Steve’s search for a lab director resulted in the hiring of Anne Jones, a huge name in the business and also a prior president of the Society of Vascular Technology (she actually won the election over Barbara Rhodes several years earlier).
JR: Who do you find helped you the most through getting to where you are today?
GB: I have been fortunate to have worked with many great people in this business but my greatest role models have been Dr. Frank J. Veith and Anne Jones both of whom have remained mentors in my life and very good friends. I can elaborate more here but check this link, http://www.svunet.org/spectrum/05/1205-president.htm, for more details about the people who have been influential in my career and in my life.
JR: When was the First AVID conference?
GB: 1990. Anne Jones started the meeting and was it’s first Chair Person. It was a small meeting then about 70-80 registrants. Serendipitous event #6. Anne Jones left Montefiore in 1991 and I was promoted to the Director’s position. I also inherited the Montefiore Vascular Lab Symposium, as it was named at the time. The AVID Symposium has evolved into one of the biggest meetings in Vascular Ultrasound and is considered by many to be the best of its kind. In recognition of Anne’s contribution to both the meeting and the profession she has been named Honorary Chair of the meeting which takes place in November at the Sheraton Hotel in NYC.
JR: Where can you see yourself Ten years from now?
GB: Teaching ultrasound and passing on experience and knowledge. What you do for others is what defines greatness.
JR: Where have you gone in the world?
GB: My career in vascular ultrasound has afforded me the opportunity to travel all over the world. I have been the recipient of many awards and am very proud of the Honorary Ph.D. I received the honor in 2001 from the PLA Hospital in China in recognition of my body of work and contributions to the field of Vascular Ultrasound. During my 21 day stay in China, I had the pleasure of walking on the Great Wall of China, visiting the Forbidden City, biking with the natives to and from the hospital every day (about 50% of people in Beijing use their bicycles to commute) and walking the Tiananmen Square, the large plaza near the center of Beijing, China. Tiananmen literally menas Gate of Heavenly Peace. It has great cultural significance as a symbol because it was the site of several key events in Chinese history but its probably best known for the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. I have traveled to many other exciting places around the world including Canada, Brazil, Mexico, France, England, Spain, Italy, Australia, Japan, and Peru. I have also lectured in just about every state in the US.
JR: What do you feel about Albert Einstein and the fact that he had Asperger Syndrome?
GB: The Albert Einstein College of Medicine was named for him and is the medical school school that Montefiore Medical Center is affiliated with. Albert Einstein was a great man and a brilliant mind. It just goes to show that one should not allow anything to get in the way of their success. He was also an equal opportunity visionary. Did you know that he agreed to attach his name to the medical school on his 74th birthday, March 14, 1953. His agreement was only given after the school agreed to write into its bylaws that admission would not be based upon race, religion, creed, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, veteran or disabled veteran status, marital status, sexual orientation, or citizenship status; that’s awesome! Coincidentally, Albert Einstein died due to the complications a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. This is one of the few vascular surgical emergencies and something we talk about and teach often in the vascular lab.
JR: What is your philosophy on life?
GB: Success without a successor is failure. Behind every great person, there is another great person. No man is an island, that’s why it’s important to me to share my knowledge and my life experience with those around me. I have been fortunate to have received the same from those with whom I trained. I am proud to say that as I look around the city, the tri-state area and around that country that there are many technologists running labs that once trained at Montefiore under my direction.
JR: What can you remember from your childhood?
GB: I didn’t start talking/communicating until the age of 3 and my mom was worried so she sent me to a speech pathologist. I was a timid child, always afraid of raising my hand in school. I remember in the second grade pushing a staple through my thumb and not saying anything, although it hurt. I waited to get home to tell my mom. I skipped 1st grade and went to Catholic Grammar School from 2nd to 7th grades. I skipped the 8th grade and went to Cardinal Hayes High School. In 1980, I graduated from Cardinal Hayes High School and went to Fordham University where I received my Bachelor of Arts in 1986.
JR: Who was your hero in life?
GB: I’d have to say my mother. My mom died in 2002 March. She worked so hard as a single mom to raise 3 boys and always provided everything we needed. She was an awesome role model.
JR: That must have been very sad for you. Who is your hero now?
GB: My hero is Jesus! He is my Lord and my savior.
JR: What church do you belong to?
GB: New Life Outreach International in the Bronx, it’s a non-denominational Christian Church.
JR: what do you feel about baseball and the Mets?
GB: Well, I am a Mets fan and very disappointed just like many other Met’s fans. They need a manager to motivate these players to be the best they can be.
Though the interview was over by then, we had a discussion about the fact that organizations for Asperger syndrome should seek private funds much like the MDA and other organizations do to increase awareness of the syndrome.
Thank you George for allowing me to Interview you for my website, www.drivemomcrazy.com