Juan Romagoza
Physician and public health advocate

Born: Usulután, El Salvador

A torture survivor and political refugee, Juan Romagoza serves his community as executive director of Washington, D.C.'s La Clínica del Pueblo. He shares his clinic's holistic approach to medical care by acknowledging the social and economic factors influencing his patients' health.

“The worst thing that happened in my life was having to leave my hometown. I believed that I was going to come back as a doctor and do what I had always dreamed. Now I understand that my people are also here. They're everywhere.”

Inspired by Archbishop Oscar Romero's devotion to El Salvador's poor, Romagoza provided medical care in some of the country's most dangerous areas during the tumultuous civil war of the 1980s. Suspected by officials of being a guerilla leader, the young medical student was tortured so severely that nerve damage now prevents him from performing surgery. Later released, Romagoza was smuggled to Guatemala, then later to Mexico, and finally to the United States, where he eventually became a U.S. citizen. In 1986, Romagoza became involved with La Clínica del Pueblo, a clinic that provides free medical care, education, and advocacy services. With more than 5,000 patients, most of whom are Salvadorians displaced by war, the clinic offers Romagoza another way to serve his native country's poor.











Juan Romagoza. Physician and public health advocate. Photograph by Héctor Méndez-Caratini, taken near a wall mural in Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, Washington , D.C.

Juan Romagoza, physician and public health advocate. Photograph by Héctor Méndez-Caratini, taken near a wall mural in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, Washington, D.C.


“Medicine is a human commitment, not a business. It demands total devotion. For me, it's like the priesthood, a commitment that may even mean giving your life . . . Health care is a human right. And we have to fight for it. The key is persistence.”










Copyright© 2004 Smithsonian Institution