He began medical school at the age of 40, graduated four years later. He’s on track to finish his internal medicine residency at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV when he’s 47. He has one son at UNLV and another in high school.
That shorthand background of Dr. Anthony Desoasido, who’s cared for COVID-19 patients at University Medical Center (UMC) for much of his first two years of residency, can’t help but pique your interest. Few, very few, men or women begin the daunting process of becoming a physician in middle age, when many people start drinking far more coffee just to have some pep in their step, when conversations with friends may well turn to the best treatment for hair loss.
A fuller examination of how he got to this time and place — he truly believes you should never give up on a dream and that you’re as young as you feel — holds your attention, including his surviving dengue fever that saw him bleeding from practically every orifice.
From day one, the life of this Filipino native has been, well, nontraditional. His birth mother gave him to a single woman to raise. “In the Philippines where I grew up that was a big deal at that time,” he said. “It’s such a family-oriented culture that if you don’t belong to a traditional family you are the target of everyone’s curiosity. My adoptive mother, it wasn’t a formal adoption, had a surgical procedure as a young woman that made her incapable of carrying a child, which labeled her not wife material — that whole traditional family thing again. It was sort of a symbiotic relationship with me and my adoptive mom: I needed someone to care and provide for me, while she needed someone to fill the void in her life, which was to have a family. I was not bullied in school but I always got unwanted attention because I was different.”
As it turned out, Desoasido says the love and caring of his adoptive mother made a huge difference in his life. He remembers how she got up early each morning to prepare for her job as an English teacher at a local college and took law school classes at night. “Her becoming a lawyer through hard work showed me that if you really want to pursue something you can get it. Both she and I have been nontraditional.”
The woman he will always call mother was a stickler for education, teaching him how to read well before he even started school. A love for reading would often find him in the local library reading everything he could get his hands on, from texts on music and home improvements to books on fishing and hunting, science and health. Unfortunately, he often skipped his school classes to do his reading. “That did get me in trouble,” he said. “I was bored in class.”
Time as a Patient
As a teenager he became a victim of dengue fever that is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. “In the Philippines, it rains a lot and the drainage system was not well managed at that time, so mosquitoes were breeding like crazy…where I lived was turned into a battleground between man and virus.”
The virus hit so many people so hard that the then-middle school student was placed for care in a multipurpose building that had been a venue for conferences, sports tournaments, concerts and weddings. There simply weren’t enough hospital beds. A doctor who had been trained in Spain treated the teen who would decide to model his life after the physician.
“Little was known about the virus back then,” Desoasido recalled, "but Dr. Ami was intent on defeating it using his medical knowledge and clinical skills. He spent day and night examining us, going through lab results, writing orders for fluids or blood products, interacting with nurses and family members, and continuously making adjustments to our care.
"As we bled from almost every orifice in our body in that makeshift hospital ward, Dr. Ami would comfort us with his presence and encouraging words. He never made any promises, but you could tell from his eyes he was going to give his all to keep us alive. At the end of the epidemic, lives were unfortunately lost in my town, but none of those were from the multipurpose building under Dr. Ami’s care.”
While he says it immediately became clear that he wanted to follow “the path of the man who had given me the gift of a second life,” money became a problem. His mother couldn’t afford medical school for him and loans weren’t available. He went to nursing school instead. “My path wasn’t straight, but in every detour that I took, I emulated Dr. Ami. During my work as a nurse in the Philippines and eventually in the United States, I made sure I carried the same thoroughness, dedication, and compassion that he showed everybody in that ward.”
For three years he worked as a nurse in the Philippines. Desoasido says a nursing shortage in the U.S. — small hospitals in Washington state held job fairs in the Philippines — would ultimately give him and his family a chance to live in the U.S., where he thought there was more opportunity. For 15 years he worked as an operating room nurse in Moses Lake, Washington, and as a rock guitarist in a band. While he enjoyed that work, he said his dream of becoming a physician wouldn’t die.
Following the Dream
“When I told my wife — she’s a physical therapist whom Desoasido calls a “superwoman” — I wanted to go back to school to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor, she looked at me and said, ‘Go for it.’ I’m sure she was worried but she hid it well…I would not have been able to survive without the support of my wife.”
Sure his nursing degree from the Philippines wouldn’t get him into medical school, he enrolled in Central Washington University to work on his undergraduate degree in biology. “I worked full time for years as an RN at night and was studying full time as well. There would be times when I would be awake for 24 hours straight.”
The work paid off. At the age of 40, he was able to enroll in the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, an hour’s drive from his home. He received his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree in 2020.
“I couldn’t work in medical school, so I had to take out loans,” he said. “But the more I studied medicine, the more I realized I had made the right choice.”
He said he knew his residency at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine would be rewarding because of the medical professionals he met during the interview. “They were knowledgeable, yet humble. I felt at home.”
Residency, he noted, can be grueling, “even if you love the profession…I started my training during COVID and it was tough — I flash backed to my time as a patient during the dengue fever epidemic —I’d be seeing people who had mild symptoms of COVID suddenly deteriorate and get worse and worse. Sometimes I just want to go home from the hospital and watch TV or play my guitar and I can’t. I have to study if I want to become the doctor I want to be.”
Once he finishes his residency next year, he plans on working as a hospitalist, an in-patient physician who works exclusively in a hospital. All the work and study he’s done and continues to do, he said, is to make him a doctor in Las Vegas like Dr. Ami was in the Philippines.
“Dr. Ami did not just save my life, he also taught me the value of giving oneself to others. Most of all he showed me an unforgettable lesson; if you want to give, you have to give your all.”