Spotlight on Dr. Juan DeRojas

Friday, December 16, 2016

Juan DeRojas, MD was born in Cuba and fled with his surgeon father and the rest of his family when Fidel Castro came to power. He said this experience gives him a unique perspective on U.S. citizenship. “Like so many immigrants, I am grateful, I am very patriotic and I look for ways to pay this country back,” he said.

Once he earned his medical degree from Temple and became a practicing surgeon, Dr. DeRojas had the courage to pursue the most perilous means of payback possible. After 9/11, he signed up as a U.S. Army doctor. He was deployed to Afghanistan as a surgeon with the rank of lieutenant colonel. When he volunteered a second time, he was deployed to Iraq with the rank of colonel. 

“The army learned a lot after Vietnam,” Dr. DeRojas said. “We know there’s a golden hour after a trauma. In Vietnam, they were taking the wounded and moving them back to facilities behind the lines. It took too long and there were too many deaths.” The Army’s solution was to create Forward Surgical Teams (FST) – two surgeons, nurses, medics and OR techs – who travel with the soldiers right up to the front line. As a member of an FST, Dr. DeRojas has performed surgery under fire, while roadside bombs exploded, and in tents in the desert with no air conditioning. “My army experience has made me a better surgeon and a better person,” Dr. DeRojas said. “You learn to function under terrible conditions. You know you can be blown up at any second. You learn to keep your cool. The result is that now, very few things bother me. My OR at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital is very calm, very low key. The nurses say it’s why they love to work with me.”

Dr. DeRojas, who grew up in Mountain Top and is a graduate of Bishop Hoban High School (now Holy Redeemer), said he enjoys surgery – even in a calm, secure OR – because “I’m a doer. With surgery, there’s a problem and you fix it. There’s instant gratification knowing you helped somebody.” He now passes on his love of surgery as a member of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine’s (Geisinger Commonwealth) clinical faculty. “I love teaching,” he said. “The Geisinger Commonwealth students are very bright. They come from diverse backgrounds and are very willing to learn – and they ask a lot of questions and keep me on my toes.”