In 2019, Dr. Daniel Diaz, who had just completed his family medicine residency at Loma Linda University Health in California, continued on with his graduate medical education in Las Vegas and was awarded a sports medicine fellowship at the UNLV School of Medicine. He became a team physician for UNLV men’s football, basketball, and soccer and for women’s basketball, soccer, volleyball, and softball.
But this year, his career took a pivot in the middle of his sports medicine fellowship; he ended up as the site medical director for UNLV Medicine curbside testing program for COVID-19.
“Like everyone else, I was horrified by the devastation of COVID-19 and wanted to do anything I could to help. It’s why I got into medicine," Diaz said. "I immediately reached out to Dr. Elissa Palmer, the medical school’s chair of family medicine, and asked to be involved with the COVID pandemic response in any way I could. With her support, I was able to streamline the curbside testing protocol that would allow physicians, medical assistants, and various other UNLV staff to provide high-quality care to the community.”
Streamline he did. Dr. Michael Gardner, the UNLV Medicine CEO, says it was Diaz’s attention to detail that made it possible to increase from testing one patient every 10 minutes to being able to test seven patients in 10 minutes.
Here's more about the 2016 graduate of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific.
Something people would be surprised to learn about you
Well, at one point I did sell cars for a living — I was one of the honest ones. A lot of people are also surprised to learn that I did not start medical school until I was 32. It’s never too late!
Describe a time in your life when you were daring.
Being a doctor wasn’t always the plan. After working several sales jobs in my youth, I decided to return to school. Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology with the intention of becoming a physical therapist, I felt a calling to reassess my plans and just knew I wanted to try and become a physician. I call it daring because I was not ‘pre-med,’ nor did I personally know anyone in the profession. At the time I did not have a mentor to guide and advise me. I just did what I could to get shadowing experience with a doctor and meet application requirements while studying for the MCAT (a standardized test taken to get into medical school). I took a chance, and I made it. I was accepted into my top-choice medical school and here I am today.
Inspiration to get into your field
Since I was a kid, I always loved playing sports. As a result, I was also always injured. During my doctor visits and rehab treatments, I was genuinely interested in the process. I would even research things on my own time to get a better understanding. It sparked the passion that I have for the medical field today.
Specialization in family medicine
Pretty early on in medical school I became aware of health disparities in underserved communities. Being bilingual in English and Spanish, I am able to communicate and understand my Spanish-speaking patients in a way they may not have experienced before. I also enjoy the continuity and ability to treat all members of the family. I think that establishes a real sense of trust between me and my patients.
Specialization in sports medicine
I decided to complete a sports medicine fellowship so that I can help patients with sports or musculoskeletal injuries, including athletes and non-athletes. As a sports medicine physician, I can provide care for most non-surgical injuries, including fractures, overuse injuries, concussions, tendon or muscle injuries, and minor in-office procedures. At UNLV, aside from providing emergent sideline care, I also work closely with the athletic trainers to provide care to injured athletes to help them safely return to sports with minimal time away from the game.
Outside of your medical career, what are you passionate about?
Mentoring is something that I’m really passionate about. I like inspiring people, helping them network and make connections — or just being someone they can trust to give them some honest insight.
Advice for your younger self when things got tough
Everything will work out in due time.
A favorite holiday food or tradition with your family
I love my mom’s tamales. The last decade has been a busy one. I look forward to spending more time with my extended family whenever possible and making new traditions with my wife and 2-year-old son.
The most surprising thing about Las Vegas
I was no stranger to visiting Vegas for a fun getaway. But there is just so much more to Las Vegas than the Strip. People are genuinely friendly and there is a strong sense of pride here. I believe in Vegas Strong.
Is there a silver lining to the pandemic?
It's a tragedy that so many lives already have been lost to COVID-19. If there had to be a silver lining in all of this it may be highlighting the importance of routine vaccinations. Scientists are working hard to find a vaccine for this coronavirus. But there are routine vaccines that exist to prevent unnecessary death from previous pandemics and illnesses. We are seeing now the damage and devastation that it can reap on public health.
What you’ll most remember about working in curbside testing
I’ll most remember the appreciation from patients. Some of them drive off giving us two thumbs up, while others hold up signs saying, ‘Thank you.’ Another thing I’ll remember is the community members who donated essential materials to our staff. On the first very day of the curbside testing, a community member drove up to our testing site to drop off bottled water for the staff.
Tell us about a moment in your life where you’d like a do-over.
I truly don’t have any regrets. There may have been times that seemed like failures, but I like to think I learned from my experiences and they got me where I am today.