Dr. Ramon Brown | Surgeon

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TRANSCRIPT BELOW:

Welcome to the very first episode of the Who Made You Great podcast, where we talk to people who are great at what they do about who helped them get there, because none of us does this alone. I’m Lala Jackson, your show host, and I am so excited for this to launch.

The website whomadeyougreat.com started back in September of 2010. It ran for a while, but then life got in the way and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to bring it back in this form. Thank you for being here.

Thank you to everyone who has championed this project for a decade. And thank you to everyone who is brand new. I am deeply grateful you’re taking the time to listen and interact with the show. It means so much to me.

Remember that full transcripts can always be found at whomadeyougreat.com. Follow us over on Instagram at @whomadeyougreat for some wonderful photos of all of our show guests. And wherever you’re listening, be sure to subscribe, rate, and review the show. It helps tremendously to get these amazing stories in front of more people hopefully bringing a little more love into their lives.

Today’s guest is Dr. Ramon Brown. I wanted to invite Ramon on as my first podcast guests for few different reasons. Number one, it’s his fault we’re here. He responded to one of my Instagram stories telling me to start a podcast and I said, “no.” So that worked out well.

Number two, he’s my father. If you’ve seen a picture of us, you’re questioning that right now, but just know that he is one of the people who was tasked with keeping me in line in college, which was no small feat because I did the most. He and the rest of La Familia, my group of college friends who are family, ran a lot of interference to keep me on track. We’ve been friends who are family for 16 years now, so it feels fitting that he’s the first one to grace this new platform of this long-standing project.

Three, he’s a genuinely great person. I cannot stress that enough. You’re going to learn about what he does professionally, which is impressive in its own right. But who he IS is the greater thing. He is a man, a father, and a husband with a tremendous amount of integrity and thoughtfulness, which you’ll see. Thank you for listening. I’m so glad you’re here. I appreciate you and I appreciate your time. Let’s get into it.

Ramon, hello.

Hey everybody.

I first met you on the University of Miami campus. You were working an overnight job in the dorms and our really great friend Taneille and I were hobbling in after trying to teach ourselves how to break dance. Your head was in a textbook and you, in true deadpan fashion, asked us if we needed medical attention. And when we said “no,” you went back to ignoring us and got back to studying.

But now 16 years later almost to the date, we know how well that ignoring us worked out. You are now the father of my brophew. We have been close for a very long time.

I want to first jump into the greatness that you bring into the world. So Ramon, on paper – what do you do?

I’m an active duty surgeon in the United States Air Force. I’m dual board certified in general surgery and colorectal surgery. I do the vast majority of my procedures robotically. And so the large part of my career is making sure that patients who have a variety of gastrointestinal diseases – including rectal cancer, colon cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, you name it. That those patients have optimal outcomes when they do need surgery. And then when they don’t need surgery, that they get the best medical care possible.

On the side, I do a number of things related to surgical education, proctoring, some virtual editing of videos, and commenting them for improvement of surgical care. I’m currently pursuing an MBA for, future career aspirations and, That’s to name enough of the things that I do on the side.

This gets into the point that we’ve not yet presented, is that Ramon is Jamaican and so he is required by Jamaican law to have like 84 jobs. Is that right?

Correct.

Cool. Cool. I’m glad we established that. I would love to dive in a bit to how you got to all of this. That’s such a long list of the things that you do. If it were just – you’re a surgeon – that would be impressive enough, but it’s that you’re so specialized and you do all these robotics things and you do all these extra things on the side and you really strive to do great things in your field. And then you mentioned the MBA for future aspirations of where you see your work going and diving into all of that. So let’s back up a bit. How did you figure out that this was something that you even wanted to do?

Medicine was something that was relatively straightforward to do. I kinda got locked in in high school. and my mom introduced me to a couple of mentors. One was a cardiac anesthesiologist and then that led to volunteering at the VA, which led to even more time in terms of patient contact and then I just kinda got really locked into that idea.

One of the things that was really good about growing up where and how I did was even though my mom allowed me to do all these other things, she always made sure I was focused on my end goal and knowing what I wanted to do and always trying to make sure that it was something that I wanted to do and not something that I was being made to do, that there was a passion behind it, not just the Caribbean drive to have one of your children be a physician.

What were these other things that you did and where did you grow up?

I grew up in Tampa, Florida. I was playing basketball, playing violin, on student government. And this was all just high school things. There’s a story that I remember about my mom specifically. We were driving along one day and she was dropping me off at practice. She was like, you can play whatever sport you want to, as long as you don’t bring home any grades with curves in them. And I was like, “yes, mom.”

But really the conversation went on to make sure that, I was focused on the end goal because basketball was a temporary thing. Even though I loved it as much as I did, I needed to have something that was going to help me provide for myself later in life and potentially whatever family I had.


What year did you start at the University of Miami?

I started in 2003.

You were premed going in in 2003?

I was premed going in in 2003, and I was one of those rare people who started with bio and instead of changing from bio, I just added on more minors.

That tracks with who you are as a person. How did you even tackle that? I think most people I know who started as premed, they were premed for maybe a semester. If they were really lucky, they stayed in for two and then they switched to a different major because premed track is insane, but you stayed on track the whole time. And to point it out, you stayed on track without being one of those kids who never saw the light of day. You were also an excellent friend and you showed up to things and you were still working out. How were you that person?

I just had that same sort of idea in my head that as long as I was doing okay in my primary objective of getting work done for school, that I needed to reach out and try and be well rounded and be there for friends, go to other student activities, learn some of those skills that went into like event planning. I had to make sure that I put things on paper and a calendar to organize them so that I could really figure out where I had time to jump in. As life got more complicated, that process got more intense. It’s very informal in college and got more formal into medical school and into residency.

Ramon at Morehouse Medical
School graduation, with
classmates from undergrad

Where did you go to medical school?

Morehouse school of medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.

Where was additional training?

I did my general surgery training at Keesler medical center. It’s an Air Force training program. I did my colorectal surgery fellowship at Oschner Medical Center in New Orleans.

When you’re approaching medicine, what is the philosophy that drives you in your continued work?

I would have to say that, I show up as someone who cares. I think that’s pretty much all I’m there for. I’m there to help them through a process, we’ll talk about the most dramatic situation and it’s either someone who’s at colon cancer or gotten a diagnosis of rectal cancer. They’re extremely scared. They’ve heard the C word already. My job is to show up as someone who cares, bring them through that process with a plan that makes sense, that they understand, and they know what’s going on. I think some of that is simply sitting down with people, getting on their level and making sure that they understand why I’m there, why they’re there and understanding that it’s not their fault. So nothing that they specifically did, and that they feel comfortable with me, not just me as their surgeon, but me as a person guiding them through that process.

Ramon, who made you great?

Ramon with his mom, Rosalee Pinnock

As corny as it sounds, I’m gonna have to say my mom. I will talk about Rosalee Pinnock in as truthful a fashion as possible. My mom had me when she was in her early twenties, raised me by herself until I was four and then came to this country from Jamaica, with me.

With the assistance of my aunt, helped guide me through this life. When you’re the child of a single parent who’s relatively young, you are growing up, but then you also get to see them grow up. As you get older, you get to see that they’re not the person they were when they were 30 versus 40. And you get that to see that change. And it leaves an impression on you.

My mom went back to school twice, once to get her BA even though she had gotten it when she was in Jamaica in accounting and then got another four year degree, cause they wouldn’t recognize the one that she got in Jamaica and then got an MBA another couple of years later to advance her career.

And then seeing that sort of progression of a person who was like, I’m not satisfied with this plateau, I want to continue growing, I want to continue making an impression and not just simply, I’m doing this because I want to get more money from job. I think that’s a side consequence of it, but really trying to bring more impact to what they do.

I think one of the things that my mom also taught me is to really love what you do because it becomes very painful to do what you do if you don’t really like it. I think that always sounded like – don’t join corporate America, Ramon.

But almost everything is corporate America now, and if you don’t understand business to a certain degree, you are, behind the power curve. I think one of my mentors put it great – if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the plate. I hope to be at the table, but either I want to be represented at the table or I want to help elevate somebody to be at the table to speak for me, who I trust, who I know has my best interest at heart. I think the older I get, the more I realize that it’s not about me necessarily doing the impacting as long as the actual impact is made.

I feel like with your mom and who she is as a person, it seems like she operates in the same way. She is a woman who moves with an incredible amount of integrity. And that seems to be in the same spirit that you’re talking about right now. It’s not clamoring for the attention or the accolades; it’s because it’s the right thing to do. Is that something that you feel like you picked up from your mom?

Yeah I don’t really think about myself a lot. I think that introduction in terms of “Oh, what is it that you do?” I don’t really think about that on a daily basis. As terms of personal philosophy that I picked up from her, it’s do the things that you enjoy and that you want to pursue the best you can, and do it in a way that you can wake up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror. You don’t have any regrets and don’t feel like you left anything on the table. Go all the way.

You spoke a bit about how your mom helped guide you in high school, as far as, go have fun doing the things, but also make sure you bring home the A’s . And I can’t imagine how it had to have been. Obviously I’m not a young man, so I don’t know how it would feel growing up as a young man, no siblings, just you and your mom. How was that experience growing up with just her? How did she foster intrinsically just who you are as a person and also help guide? Not to totally blow up your spot, but you’re a bit of a stubborn person as am I, which is why we get along. But how did she make sure that you stayed on track with that strong headedness at first?

I think she is a master manipulator – no, I’m joking. No, but she has this perfect balance. I think I’ve been blessed to have her as a parent because she has a sort of balance of guiding me to do something that I want to do. It’s kind of like, “Hey, what do you want to do?” “Well, I want to become a doctor.” “Okay. What are the things that you need to do to become a doctor?” “I need to get good grades. I need to get these recommendations.” “Oh, so are you doing those things?” “Yeah. I’m, I’m, I’m on that. Um, I’m doing that,” to a certain point where it became, I didn’t need that voice. It became ingrained in who I was. I have an objective. How do I get to that point? What are the steps that you need to go through? What are one, two, three, four, or five? Have I met one, two, three, four, five? Can I put that in a row? How do I keep track of that? Then simply building the steps towards that goal.

I feel like that’s so important, especially raising kids who have a strong vision for where they want to go, but don’t know how to get there. I think the default for a parent has to be, you need to do this, you need to do that, but it’s so smart to instead help them build their internal voice by asking those questions. And you’re so right. That is something that then serves you for life because that – your parent’s voice then becomes your own internal monologue of, okay, well, how do I do this?

You also get to own your failures, right? Yeah. If you, if you, your goal was X and then you didn’t make it- why didn’t you make it? Well, really sit there and think about why didn’t you get to your ultimate goal and what can you do next time and really those successes and losses help build who you are as time goes.

It would be great to say, “Oh, everything has been hunky dory these last 35 years and there’s been no tripping points ” But there has, and there was points in my life where I was so busy with everything that it became overwhelming. I had to take a step back.

I think one of those points was in senior year of college. I literally stepped back from the mounting level of student involvement and knowing that this was my time to try and get into medical school and that I was not feeling very comfortable that I was gonna make it in, maybe because I hadn’t tried as hard as I could have or been as organized.

Between junior year and senior year, took courses to try and make sure that I got high enough scores on the MCAT. I finally did and ended up getting into medical school at first try, but that put a chip on my shoulder in medical school where I was very like – I’m never letting that happen again, so I blasted through classes. But I also learned during that process of blasting through classes and having a chip on my shoulder that being that guy really affects the people around you in a not positive way. You gotta treat people the right way along the way.

It’s been a struggle for the last 14, 15 years getting to this point. And I think anybody who makes it through this without hitting some landmines and just having some setbacks, God bless them. They’ve done it the perfect way.

I don’t know if you’d even get to certain levels without those roadblocks, to be honest. I think they’re required in some way. I know that we’ve spoken a little bit about how your mom has also been a model for that too. The amount of times she’s had to pivot and reinvent herself. You mentioned her getting her MBA. I know she’s been through some stuff with work where she had to kind of reassess what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go. How much has she been a model for that for you?

Yeah. She just keeps going and that’s one of those things where it’s like, once you hit a roadblock and you feel like, man, I don’t know how I’m gonna move on, you look at someone who has her entire life done nothing but figure out a way to make it work. You just have to keep on moving, look for a new option, find another way, keep working, you know.

You’ve made fun of the fact that I’ve had like, six or seven jobs – there’s reasons why I’ve had those jobs and those are personal reasons because we needed to leverage that, to make our own dreams come true as a family. that’s what you just have to do. You just have to buckle down. And I think at the core of who I am is I just want to be a good son, a good father, a good husband, as good as any other human being can be and above all else.

To be clear, I will always make fun of you for everything.

I expect it.

What’s your favorite thing about your mom?

Um, her laugh.

I love that answer so much. That was such a like pure son… I love it. What’s your favorite memory with her?

Um, favorite memory with her? That’s a harder one because there are so many good memories. you know, you end up spending a lot of time alone with this person over the course of like 18 years.

I think one of my favorite memories was probably right after graduation at a graduation party. we also did one at the end of college too, but the one at the end of high school was bittersweet because it was the kind of marking the moment where I was like, getting ready to leave home. She, you know, gave me a hug at the end of the night and says, says only that I did good and maybe started crying a little bit. I was pretty touched. And I was like, okay.

She does the big moments well. I’m glad that I’ve been able to be a part of not high school and obviously, but a few of the grad celebrations since then. And she’s the marvelous woman. She brings like a level of calm that I really appreciate, kind of centers everyone. And I don’t know how she does it with all that she does too.

Yeah. that’s a good point. I think a lot of people point to that in me in terms of how do I stay calm, where everything is just hitting the fan. And I don’t really have a great answer for that. like, I don’t know how she does it and I don’t know if she knows how she does it, but it seems like that’s how I’m just imitating her.

When it comes to other people who are either pursuing their own greatness and either feel like they’re starting to get there or. Don’t quite know how to get there yet, but they’re trying to figure out how to make a bigger impact in the world. What some advice for them, what is some wisdom or some motivation that you would like to impart for them based on your journey?

It’s going to sound weird, but don’t focus on the greatness. I think if you’re so wrapped up in the impact that you’re making, some times you lose track of all the ingredients that go into that. I would say breaking it down into the smaller pieces. And then making sure all of those things are online so that the delivery is great.

I think the best instance I have of that was during college, I used to organize all of the comedy shows and during my junior year, I would have to say that’s when I had the most fun, because instead of just being the person who did the marketing or the person who got to do the selecting, I got to do everything. I felt privileged to be able to do it, to select these people, dig through files and figure out like, okay, who would be the best comedian to come in March because we had all of these other events around it and this person would be relevant at that time. And then doing the marketing to try and attract people in and then making sure we have the right budget I really focused hard on making sure all of those pieces were together.

And then at the end, like I really got to sit back and I didn’t really watch the comedian at that point cause I already knew what your jokes were going to be. A really had opportunity to like sit back and like watch the audience and their response was the gold to me. Like it was the best part was to see the 50 to 100 people, 150 people who were able to squeeze into the Rat (editor’s note: the Rat is the University of Miami’s Rathskeller, an on-campus bar) or on to the area in front of the university center have a great time.

I think if I had focused on that the entire time, it would have been weird. I wouldn’t have known how to figure out the other background pieces to it.

So that would be my advice is just, it’s not really about impact. You get to enjoy the impact for the time that it’s it’s there at the time that, that echo that, uh, applause is there, but really the enjoy the background of work.

One of those corny “enjoy the journey” type quotes feels appropriate for here. But really, I really think that enjoying, like getting to that end point. is probably more important than the impact itself.

I’m gonna go ahead and weave a thread here. And it’s going to feel like a little bit of a leap, but I don’t think it is. It’s interesting hearing you describe the process and then the really enjoyable outcome for the comedy shows of the process of having to learn all the ins and outs and intricacies and the logistics and all of that. And getting to the end point of just people enjoying themselves and living a good life.

It’s the same way you described medicine. You do all of this prep work and you went through med school and you had to learn all of these deeply complex things. But at the end of the day, your end goal is making sure that the person in front of you is okay and gets to live a good life and gets to be with their family. And it’s just, it’s not a thread I would have expected to see, but it actually makes a lot of sense that you described those two things in the same exact way.

Yeah. And I mean, I experienced them the exact same way. I don’t really think about like when a patient comes in, and this is going to sound really weird, I get excited about how I can help them. Like, this is a horrible situation. No one wants to see me in person, but I do usually tell this joke that, I’m the doctor that you never really need, but you’re happy that you got.

To be clear, that’s not a weird thing to say. I hope doctors are excited by finding a solution.

I don’t know. Like I just really like seeing people do really well. My favorite thing to do is to get a patient in the hospital and then get them out in like the shortest amount of time possible and then them not give me a phone call about any problems and then come to back to the clinic in two weeks and then not have any problems.

That first post-op visit where they look like they’re doing fantastic – I know you guys can’t see my face, but I hope you hear the smile. It’s amazing. It’s almost as good as the applause at that comedy show.

I like the parallels. This works out for me. The other thing I also wanted to point out is you’ve spoken about, within this whole vein of “don’t stay focused on the greatness, focus on all the steps you need to take there so you do it well.” How do you keep on track with that for yourself? Do you have any tools or tricks that you use for yourself?

I, at this point in my life are… I’m very organized because of past feelings and issues with procrastination and not feeling like it did well. So on my desktop, I have a document called The Plan.

Every week I go in and update the plan and it has things that are broken down into my short term goals, my long term goals, things about who I am, words of affirmation for myself, at the bottom and top of every document, there’s some quotes.

Ramon with his wife, Dr. Kim Brown

And my favorite one is – “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It’s a freedom from thinking about yourself at all.”

And the very last sentence on the page is be a good son, a good father and good husband. And that’s kind of all I got.

I like it. We’ve come to the end of our show. And at the end of the show, I would like to ask you to share any final thoughts or plugs or things that you want to direct people toward.

I think I would be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity to plug the health priorities that we have in our community. Nobody wants to have a colonoscopy. Most people want to ignore it, ignore problems of bleeding, ignore problems of weight loss of abdominal pain. Those are things that really need to be brought to your physician’s attention.

And as much as money grubbing doctors enjoy seeing large volumes of patient s , the reality is we are here to help. In my practice, I know that I’ve seen younger and younger African American and Caucasian and Asian patients who have, more advanced forms of colorectal cancer.

Chadwick Bozeman’s passing in the last couple of weeks – it is sad. Learning that he’s been fighting this for four years is also sad.

This is also an opportunity for people in our community to know that – hey, this is something that’s real. And that is something that we should not be ashamed to bring to somebody.

So that’s all I got. All I got is, take care of yourselves. Pay attention to yourself. Get yourself in front of a physician. Who’s gonna care about you and help you through your journey.

Thank you father. Thank you for taking time today to do this. I am so honored that you directed me toward doing this again and grateful for you, belief in me and grateful for your time, especially with your 14 jobs that I always make fun of you for, for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it.

And for the listeners, if you have any questions for Ramon, I am happy to be his secretary. You can route them through me, leave them in the comments and we’ll make sure they get answered.

And without any further ado, thank you so much Ramon. Thank you to all of our listeners. We’ll be back with another episode soon.

Thank you guys.

Thank you for listening to episode one, especially in its entirety.

I hope you had as much fun listening to Ramon as I did. I’ve known him for so long now, but I always learn something new from him.

I did not know that he has a document on his computer called The Plan, but that entirely tracks with who he is as a person so I am not surprised at all.

I can definitely vouch for how much he cares about his patients. My mom has been trying to get him to work in diabetes for ages, which he keeps turning down, but he has sat with me in the emergency room before, and he has always done whatever he can to take care of me.

I also really loved his answer to his favorite thing about his mom. The fact that he said her laugh just made my heart melt. She’s a wonderful woman and I am so grateful to know her as well.

A few short things before we go.

If you have not yet subscribed to wherever you’re listening, please be sure to do so. It really helps get the show in front of more people.

If you have not yet followed us over on Instagram at @whomadeyougreat, we post some exclusive content over there. And when I say exclusive content, I mean embarrassing photos.

Finally, thank you to Lionel T. Djaowe from my music. I love this track so much.

Let me know what you thought and what you want to hear next. If you have anyone who you think would be a wonderful show guests, please let me know. I would love to hear more people’s stories.

Thank you for listening. Bye.

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