If you ever want to see someone multitask, look no further than an emergency room doctor. One Tuesday morning in February I showed up for my meeting with Dr. Marshall G. Baca, Jr., or “Baby Baca” as his staff of nurses jokingly refer to him, and set up shop in the ER’s break room. There was a sense of urgency in the atmosphere, but not panic. The emergency room was busy, but not chaotic. And everyone on staff was in full work mode but still friendly.
I knew going into the interview that I needed to block off a couple of hours in my schedule due to the unpredictability of emergency room activity, which is what I did. Admittedly, I assumed it would be rather slow since it is Artesia, after all, and how many emergencies would take place on a Tuesday morning in our small town? But I blocked off the morning anyway, just in case. It was a good thing I did because my assumptions were wrong. Very wrong.
Not long after I arrived in the break room and set up my laptop, Julie Gibson, director of business development at Artesia General Hospital, joined me and we chatted for a bit over a cup of coffee about Doctors Baca Jr. and Baca Sr. in preparation for the interview.
Baca Jr. finally resurfaced, and rather than joining us in the break room for the interview, he requested we join him up front where he could answer my questions without having to put his work on hold. Careful not to violate any HIPPA laws, I was then able to do my work by watching his.
I observed for some time as he went room to room, assessing patients and answering their questions, dictating notes and interacting with nurses and other emergency personnel. One particular instance showed me a broader view of his bedside manner. The caring and sincere yet tactfully informative way in which he dealt with a woman who had brought a sick family member into the ER was notable. I was impressed by the manner in which he handled such a complicated and emotional situation. One person on staff described him as having a way of “making each patient feel like they are the only patient he has,” regardless of the countless others waiting their turn to see him.
In between treating patients and dictating notes, he filled me in on parts of his life that eventually led him to Artesia General Hospital to practice emergency room medicine. As a child, his view of medicine differed from most of his peers because his father, Dr. Marshall Baca Sr., was immersed in medical school and eventually in building his own orthopedic practice in Carlsbad. “My parents had me at a young age; he was in college. There was no way at that time that I had any desire to go into the medical field,” he admitted. “I saw how much my dad worked, and I didn’t think I wanted that for me and my family.”
For that reason, he studied business in college and became somewhat of an entrepreneur, dabbling in the wine industry in California before going to work for a medical supply company called Stryker. “That’s what switched me to go into a different profession,” he declared.
He soon realized his passion for the medical field was perhaps deeper than he had initially realized, and he decided to go back to school to study medicine, and back on his word of “never becoming a doctor.” Having majored in business, he first had to complete two more years of undergrad studies in science before even beginning medical school.
His wife, Annie, was working toward her master’s degree at the time as well. “It was a discussion we had to have before I even started medical school. It fit our life plan, but we knew it would mean we had to make a lot of sacrifices; she‘s always been very support of me though.”
Baca Jr. graduated from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso in June 2016 and by July was working full time as an emergency room physician at Artesia General Hospital, an employer he shares with his father, Marshall Baca Sr., M.D., an orthopedic surgeon.
“I had my reservations about coming to a small town; I was afraid it might be too slow, but we see tons of trauma and sick people here,” he expressed. “It was surprising.” In order to help pay off medical school loans and hone his skills even further, he continues to work part time at a level one trauma center in El Paso. For all the similarities between the dynamic Baca duo, they will both tell you there are certainly a number differences as well. “I’m probably a little bit more uptight than him. I’m more of a planner,” Baca Jr. contended. “I feel like I have my life mapped out, and he is more of a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type.” And perhaps it’s a generational thing, but the junior Baca admits to being a more “direct” communicator than his father, who tends to lean on “implication” to get his points across.
Outside the workplace, both men love the outdoors, but Baca Jr. prefers hiking or playing golf while Sr. is an avid hunter. “That’s something he shares with my brother; they both love hunting,” Jr. acknowledged.
If you ask Baca Sr. about the differences between his son and him, he tends to agree with his son’s assessment, adding, “I see him as more regimented. Maybe I’m just loosening up the older I get, but I very much see him that way.”
In terms of their careers, the elder Baca commends his son on his work ethic and dedication to the field of emergency medicine, but he acknowledges it’s not a field for him. “I couldn’t handle that much adrenaline on a daily basis,” he reckoned. “I like predictability, and the ER is anything but. Marshall likes the unknown. It’s a good fit for him.”
Unlike his son, who had no interest in medicine as a child, Dr. Marshall Baca Sr. knew from a very early age that he wanted to become a doctor. He admitted to not having much information back then about what becoming a doctor entailed, but that never deterred him. “I know we were dearly close to our pediatrician at the time, but I didn’t have anyone in my family in medicine. We had a number of business owners, but no doctors. But I knew it was something I wanted to do.” The Baca family were early settlers in the Socorro area of New Mexico and can trace their roots back generations, to the 1600s, before the United States was even the United States. During World War I, most of the family moved out west to California, where the men went to fight in the war and the women entered the workforce.
Baca Sr. was born in California and then promptly moved with his family to Mexico until the age of three. Having lived in Mexico from age three to 12, he returned to the States with his family and attended middle school, high school and college in El Paso. After a rocky start to his college years—he confessed he initially majored in foosball and having fun—an advisor interceded and changed the trajectory of his career by asking him what he wanted to do with his life. He knew then, just like he knew as a child, that he was meant to study medicine, so with the help of the advisor, he shifted gears and set out on the proper path to becoming a doctor.
Deciding to become a doctor was step one; step two was deciding on a specialty. “Marshall was a seven-weeks-early preemie and was in ICU (Intensive Care Unit) for weeks. That’s part of the reason I went into pediatrics,” he shared. “As you go through medical school you’re exposed to a lot of primary care, but as you experience things you find a niche.” So how did the talented surgeon at Artesia General Hospital go from treating babies to replacing knees? “I worked with my mentor, who was the chief of pediatric surgery at the hospital I worked at in Houston at the time. He ended up moving, and with [his departure] came a new department head,” Baca Sr. explained. He and his mentor’s predecessor butted heads, and the experience “turned him off” from pediatrics. “All of the sudden I had an orthopedic rotation, and it was eye-opening.” He realized orthopedics provided him an opportunity to become somewhat of an engineer for the human body. “I love orthopedics. I could do this until I’m 90,” he quipped. “I don’t think I will, but I could!”
Once he settled on making a career in orthopedics, serendipity led him to New Mexico. “I looked at other places, but coming out of medical school and having student debt, the best opportunity was in Carlsbad,” he confided of the decision he made nearly 22 years ago. “We had three kids by then, and we felt like it was a good place to raise them and start my practice.” So for the next 16 years, Baca Sr. owned a successful private orthopedic practice in Carlsbad; until, that is, the folks at Artesia General Hospital came calling. Today, six years into his stint at AGH, patients travel from all over the region seeking his expertise. Much like his son, Baca Sr. is known for being patient-focused, pleasant to work with and dedicated to his profession.
They might differ in many aspects of their personal lives, but Drs. Marshall Baca Sr. and Marshall Baca Jr. share the most important qualities when it comes to their careers: They treat their patients, co-workers and other staff with respect, and they manage to find joy and