“Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon”

Written by Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, MD with Mim Eichler Rivas

Published by University of California Press, 2011

Reviewed  By Luís Torres


The Remarkable Story of An Undocumented Mexican Farmworker

 Who Made it To Harvard Medical School and Became a Famous Neurosurgeon


The real-life story of Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa is so amazing and seemingly unbelievable that your first reaction is to think it’s a Hollywood movie script. It seems that improbable. But it’s true. As relayed in his book “Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon,” it’s the story of an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who comes to the United States to toil picking fruit in California, works diligently, quickly learns English, shows intellectual promise and goes on to graduate from UC Berkeley, then goes to Harvard Medical School and eventually becomes one of the world’s leading brain surgeons. Hard to believe, but again, it really happened.

Now, neurosurgeon Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa has set down his personal life story (with help from co-writer Mim Eichler Rivas) in a riveting and heart warming autobiography. Today “Dr. Q”, as he refers to himself because folks who don’t speak Spanish have a tough time pronouncing his tongue-twisting multi-syllabic surname, is a pioneer in brain surgery innovations at prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.  He is tops in his field. But just 25 ago he was “just another migrant farmworker” working in the fields of California’s Central Valley. Quite a remarkable story.

How did he accomplish so much, coming from such humble beginnings? That’s the engaging story told in “Becoming Dr. Q.”  It is a story of perseverance, the power of imagination and a dedication to intellectual curiosity. It is the story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles with the help and guidance of family and educational mentors. It is a story about following your dreams and never giving up. Quite a story, and all the more captivating because it’s true. If the book were written as a novel, it would probably have been rejected by a publisher because the story seems just too improbable to be believed.

Quiñones-Hinojosa was born and raised in the tiny, dusty town of Polaco near Mexicali in Baja California. He was born into a family that constantly struggled to make financial ends meet. But the family was rich in one respect – the support and love that nourished everyone in the family. That was one key to his eventual success in the world. By the time he was nineteen he had completed coursework in Mexico to qualify for a certificate in education, something that prepared him to be a sort of entry-level school teacher. But things didn’t quite pan out and he decided to head to the United States to earn some money.

He tells the harrowing story of sneaking into the country, facing the prospects of jail – or worse. He had heard many stories of undocumented immigrants who died in the desert trying to make it to a new life. But he made it to California and found work in the fields and in a number of odd jobs, always showing that he was an exceedingly bright, resourceful young man. Eventually he took classes at a community college in Stockton and quickly excelled.  He writes, “My enrollment at night classes at San Joaquin Delta College inaugurated a period of great growth and learning for me.”

That led to the wild idea of applying for admission to the University of California. His grades were solid and his aptitude and keen intellect impressed the administrators and professors who interviewed him at Berkeley.

A few years later, with the help and guidance of academic mentors he was accepted at Harvard Medical School after graduating from UC Berkeley. And, again, with encouragement and assistance from mentors he excelled there as well. Because of those experiences, he is devoted to helping others along the way. And that’s one of the reasons he wrote the memoir. He writes, “My hope is that my unlikely story may light a spark in a boy or girl who currently faces bleak prospects to embrace the power of his or her imagination and special magic. Or spur an exhausted medical resident to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel – in the best meaning of the phrase!”

He adds: “(My hope is) especially, to encourage any of us who allow ourselves to judge others by their ethnicity of socioeconomic background to open our eyes to all that we have in common.”

A remarkable tale, and one that is well told in “Becoming Dr. Q.”


Luís Torres, a veteran journalist and frequent contributor to Latinopia, is the author of the forthcoming book “Doña Julia’s Children: The Life and Legacy of Vahac Mardirosian.”