Last fall I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Juan Aragon, Executive Director of Primary Care, Specialties and Physicians’ Services at Evergreen Health.
His story begins in Costa Rica where he grew up and completed his medical training. His journey into medicine was sparked on a casual car ride with his father who asked Juan the question: “what are you going to do for a living?” When Juan told him that he wanted to be a missionary, his father pressed back, asking how he would pay the bills. Right then and there, Juan decided he would go into medicine.
After starting a medical training program in Costa Rica, Juan took 9 months off for bible school at Capernwray Hall in England. His goal was to mature, away from his family, and spend some time in self-reflection to ensure that medical school was truly the right path for him.
Juan finished medical school at age 24 and took a job in the remote location of Drakes Bay on the Oso Peninsula in Costa Rica. Juan was the second doctor Drakes Bay ever had and, needless to say, he gained a ton of clinical experience there.
Missionary work continued to call to him, so he left Drakes Bay to work for a bible school, and did pro-bono work for the affiliated hospital. This is where he learned the administrative side of medicine. And, how much he liked it. He wore a lot of hats: Chief of Human Resources, Chief Risk Officer, etc., and by the time he moved on, the school had built up an unprecedented $300,000 cash reserve.
In 2008 he received his Master of Medical Management, Health Systems Management from Tulane University. He moved to Seattle in 2009 to start his career at Evergreen Health.
After learning about his background, I asked Dr. Aragon a series of questions, as follows:
Lowell: How do you give back?
Juan: My religion – Christianity – should have a visible impact. It is not just a philosophy. Early on I gave back with my talents and skills via board participation. I focused on organizations that had youth programs, like the YMCA, with the goal of helping kids navigate the messy teen years. I have continued to work with the YMCA in tandem with Evergreen.
I am currently involved with the University of Washington Masters in Health Administration program. I see these kids as the ones who will be here when I am not. Investing in their future is paramount. My participation in panels and business cases also helps me learn and succeed in my current role at Evergreen Health.
Lowell: How do you “Live Fully”?
Juan: At the end of the day when you look back at a day’s worth, a year’s worth or even 10 years’ worth of time, you need to ask: did I invest enough time in my family that I am preparing them to be better individuals to face the challenges of this world than I am? Am I fully investing in the people I love the most? Was I conscious enough to be grateful to the people who contributed to my life, in recognition that I am where I am because of them? Answering “yes” to these question brings fullness. A friend once told me – “be grateful with your treasures, be grateful with your talents and be grateful with your touch.”
Lowell: What is the best piece of financial advice you ever received?
Juan: Live like it’s your last day but plan like you are going to live a hundred years. Don’t get into credit card debt. Save enough money to have fun. Always have the attitude that if you are willing to give, opportunities will present themselves constantly. Look at things as opportunities. The same thing is true with investing: Don’t leave it all in one place. Leave it where you can take advantage of opportunities.
Lowell: Do you miss practicing medicine?
Juan: Yes. But, I made the choice in 2008 to pursue an administrative career. I find alternative ways to be with people, and I see the long term impact that my work will have on patients. I know that at some point, I or my loved ones will need these services and I want to make sure they are the best services possible.
Lowell: What is the biggest challenge and opportunity for health care?
Juan: Challenge – Affordability. Our health care is so expensive that it is not sustainable. For the past 6 years, we have tried 200 experiments and none have delivered results. Opportunity – Same thing. If you think about how our nation was formed, it has always figured out how to force its way through complex problems. The US is the way it is because it figures out innovative solutions to transform the market. We will break through. Consider the innovations of Amazon, Google and Apple for instance.
Lowell: What advice do you have for physicians?
Juan: As you are figuring out what you want to do with your life, take the time to figure out what you are passionate about. Make sure you have the skills and financial support to do it. Figure out your priorities and have a plan to make sure those priorities are met. As long as you have a plan, you know where you are going. You can figure it out. Ask for help. Design the map to fit your lifestyle. Develop a plan to make enough money and enjoy it. Have a plan and understand choices and tradeoffs. Understand where true north is. Figure out how to overcome obstacles and stay on track.
Society presses kids to have it all figured out; this pressure is incredible. You do not have to have it all figured out. Have a plan. Talk to smart people. Work hard. Have a good attitude. Don’t think that when you go to college you need to have your retirement date figured out. It’s okay to not know all the answers. Never be afraid to ask for help.
Juan is an impressive person, and I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with him. His global perspective, work ethic, and humble attitude bring a unique perspective to the medical field. I hope you glean some insight from his thoughts, and that they lead you to a fuller place.