Dr. Denise Núñez is a pediatric intensivist. She’s also a leader in the Latino community. Through social networks, she promotes health messages that reach millions of people in Spanish. But she doesn’t just talk about health … She has 160,000 followers on Instagram.
“I do live sessions for moms who have questions, not only in the Bronx but also throughout Latin America.” She’s the first to be surprised at her reach. Without having planned for it, she reaches “many moms from many countries: Venezuela, Colombia…. It’s not easy but, thank God, we’ve been able to reach more people.”
“A united family goes far.”
Her goal is to impart “education and preventative medicine and help empower parents to create a more united family. A united family goes a long way,” she says.
This U.S.-born physician from a family with a Dominican background always felt the need to help others.
A terrible first experience
She studied medicine in the Dominican Republic. There, her first experience as a doctor marked her forever. She recalls:
“I did my internship at the Dr. Robert Reid Cabral Hospital. One night, when I was in the emergency room, a van arrived. A father threw me three burned children. I was shocked. They had been playing with gasoline and they caught fire. There was nothing to treat them with. That marked my life.”
Dr. Núñez then decided to return to the United States. She faced many adversities, among them the lack of economic resources, and racism. At her university, she found that Latinos were not welcome.
“When I was about to enter the university, a professor stopped me and said, ‘What are you doing here? Go back, because you don’t belong here. Go back to your country.‘”
Despite the obstacles, she continued studying.
“I worked during the day, until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. I would come home and put my two children to bed. There was a university nearby with a library open 24 hours a day and there I would go to study until 4 am, every day. That’s how I passed my exams,” she says.
Dr. Núñez worked in pediatrics at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital. “At that hospital,” she explains, “you see everything: stabbings, shootings…”
That stage served as a life lesson and gave her wings to open her outpatient practice, Divino Niño, and more recently Doctor Urgent Medical Care. She has also created the Niño de la Caridad Foundation.
The difficulty of educating young Latinos
“What we need,” she says, “is to help those parents, to teach them how we have to deal with these young Latin Americans who […] believe that our values don’t count.”
“The parents get angry and that anger creates enmity in the family and is what tears the family apart. But we’re adults and we have to teach them that with love and respect everything is possible.“
Creating Latino leaders
Dr. Núñez’s mission is to create Latino leaders. “We need more Latino leaders who can help others who need it,” she explains. “We have a voice and if we are all united, they are going to realize that our voice is important.”
“The mission of the foundation,” she adds, “is to create Latino leaders, to try to get them educated, so they finish high school and get into college. In order to grow, we have to educate ourselves. That’s the mission of the foundation.”
Learning from Dr. Tallaj
Denise Núñez is a member of the SOMOS network of doctors, which serves people with limited resources in New York.
“For me it’s an honor to belong to SOMOS, to Dr. Ramon Tallaj’s group, and to be one of his team of guides… For me the most important thing has been the teachings he’s given me as a person. He doesn’t give up.”
She explains why she values him so much: “Where things are in ashes, Dr. Tallaj takes flight. Where there are negatives he looks for the positive, and even if he falls down, he gets back up. He taught me that a long time ago. He has been my mentor and my father in my clinics because he would come here, sit with me, and teach me.”
“I didn’t understand anything about insurance,” she adds, “or anything like that. And he would come and sit with me, and take time out of his own work. He taught me how to look inside the business. That joining of forces was what I learned from him.” This explains how today more than 2,500 physicians are united and strong through SOMOS Community Care, looking out for the underprivileged.
What makes her happy
Denise Núñez continues to dream big. She has published the book “From Children to Young Leaders” where she expresses her desire to take the Latino community to the top in the United States.
“It makes me happy,” she says, “to see my patients fulfill their dreams. To see those young people achieve what they long for. And to see happy families. For me, really, to be able to help someone and see that happiness in someone else makes me happy. And for me the greatest thing is for my family also to be at peace, in harmony with God.“
“I have a project,” she adds, “called ‘From Latinas to Latinas.’ We’re reaching out to moms, to help them to be entrepreneurial and get out of whatever negative situations they have at home.”
“I owe everything to my parents.”
Today, Dr. Nunez is undoubtedly one of the great Latino reference points in the United States. But for her, there’s someone who deserves special thanks for her achievements.
“Truly,” she insists, “I owe everything to my parents. My mom and dad are exemplary, hard-working people. My mob is a hard-working woman, tireless! And dad is always an example of the human value that no matter what you have, service is the most important thing.”
“I didn’t know that my dad didn’t know how to read or write well until after he was 30 years old. He always said that education was the most important thing and that was the value he taught us.”