Cuban American Latina Surgeon-in-Chief Medical Innovator

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Meet Omaida C. Velazquez, M.D., Hispanic Woman of Distinction, 2021 Latina Pioneer of the Year

Professor and Chair, Department of Surgery, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Surgeon-in-Chief, University of Miami Health System & Jackson Health System

“Hispanic women bring a unique perspective that translates to the understanding of the Hispanic community and can advance the society at large with inclusivity, respect, health education and awareness of modifiable risk factors, an unwavering stance against violence, sexism, and racism, and a passion for the protection of human rights.”  

Patients routinely regard skillful surgeons as heroes. Surgeons, however, often name academic surgeons as their champions. Our 2021 Latina Pioneer of the Year, Omaida C. Velazquez, M.D., is just one of those highly regarded icons for her medical innovations, her servant-leader style, her keen insights on building clinical and academic surgical programs and her teaching contributions in the vascular field.

More than 185,000 amputations are performed annually in the U.S. resulting in as many as two million Americans living with limb loss. Half of those amputations are caused by vascular disease. Sadly, even with proper care, one quarter of those vascular patients will not live past five years. Omaida has devoted her career to lowering those statistics through early detection, non-invasive procedures, clinical trials and more.

Omaida was born in Cuba and emigrated to the U.S. in her early teens. Despite going to a public high school with limited resources, she excelled and went on to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Biology at Stevens Institute of Technology, graduating in the top tier in her class and then attended New Jersey Medical School Rutgers University where she graduated Valedictorian. She earned her General Surgery Residency and subsequent Fellowship in Vascular/Endovascular Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). She then joined the UPenn faculty, became Board Certified in General and Vascular surgery and served eight years, rising from Assistant to Associate Professor with early award of Tenure at the University of Pennsylvania. She relocated to Florida in 2007 when the University of Miami (UM) recruited her as the Chief of the Vascular and Endovascular Division.

After several years of clinical and academic service, Omaida was promoted to Tenured Professor at UM, served as Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Surgery and was later appointed as the Executive Dean of Research for the UM Miller School of Medicine. Under her leadership, research administrative processes were streamlined and demystified. She served as the thought leader for the school of medicine in refocusing the research portfolio to optimize synergies, maximize growth, and support over 500 UM Miller Faculty members serving as Principle Investigators on National Institute of Health (NIH) grants and projects funded by many other extramural agencies, totaling over $300M in annual research awards.

After a nine-month nationwide search for a new UM Chair of Surgery, the Search Committee recognized that Omaida was the perfect person. She became the Chair of Department of Surgery at UM and made history in 2015, becoming the first Latina woman to become Chair of Surgery in the U.S. She was also named the inaugural Surgeon-in-Chief for both the UM and Jackson Health Systems. Omaida now oversees hundreds of surgeons, scientists, educators and support staff.  With millions of additional dollars raised since her leadership appointment by fundraising and grants, her teams have created surgical innovations and diagnostic procedures that repeatedly rank them as one of the most respected hospital systems in the nation and one of the most sought-after learning opportunities for surgical interns.

In addition to serving on numerous professional societies, medical advisory boards, editorial boards, and NIH Study Section panels, Omaida also supports Camillus House, the Church of the Little Flower Homeless Ministries, the Miami Rescue Mission, and serves on the Advisory Board for the Jose Marti STEM Academy in Union City, New Jersey which provides academic scholarships and opportunities for Hispanic students. Omaida also serves on two ground breaking anti-racism task forces established by the American College of Surgeons and the Southern Surgical Association.

Omaida has been appointed to the highly prestigious American Society for Clinical Investigators (ASCI) and American Surgical Association (ASA). She has been continuously funded by the NIH for over 15 years, published over 200 manuscripts, and obtained several biomedical patents. One of Omaida’s seminal discoveries has already been licensed by University of Miami, leading to a new start-up company that is advancing new vascular cures through vascular regenerative approaches. Omaida has received countless recognitions including a Certificate of Leadership from the DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery; the Conrad Jobst Award at the University of Michigan; the Rudolph Matas, MD Vascular Surgery Award from Tulane University; the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; the Distinguished Graduate Award from The University of Pennsylvania; and the Miracles for Life Leadership Excellence Award by the Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency, to name just a few.

Along with her husband of more than 30 years, Dr. Romulo Cuy, a pediatric anesthesiologist, and her children, Peter James Cuy and Julia Caridad Cuy, they enjoy traveling, camping, hiking and serving the Miami-Dade community. Omaida also enjoys reading topics beyond her dedicated profession and is an avid study of books on quantum mechanics and the Physics’ laws that govern the Time dimension. Along with her family, searching for ways to provide food and shelter to those underserved are an ever present focus in her life. Omaida is also passionate towards promoting organ and tissue donation for the benefit of the community and the countless thousands nation-wide awaiting the miracle of life-saving transplantation. We are proud to announce the 2021 Hispanic Women of Distinction and the Latina Pioneer of the Year: Omaida Velazquez MD 2021 Honorees: MELIDA AKITI, VP Ambulatory & Community Service, Memorial Healthcare Systems (Broward) YINETH SANCHEZ ASLAN – GEICO Staff Counsel, Law offices of George L. Cimballa, III (Broward) MARIA S. ANTUNA – CEO Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County – (Palm Beach) ERBI BLANCO-TRUE – Community Development Manager, IBERIABANK, First Horizon Bank (Miami) THAYRA “Tye” HAUSHEER – Volunteer Community Leader AARP Florida (Miami) HEIDI ALZATE KAUFMAN – Founder/President Heidi Alzate Consuting (Broward) JACQUELINE LOPEZ-DEVINE – Chief Clinical Officer/Chief Nursing Officer, Trustbridge ( Palm Beach) JESSICA MARRA – Attorney, Law Firm of Kelley Kronenberg – (Broward) JAENE MIRANDA – Pres/CEO Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County (Palm Beach) LUBBY NAVARRO – School Board Member Miami-Dade County/Director of Government Affairs Memorial Healthcare Systems (Miami) KIMBERLY VALENTIN – Hospice Liasion Amedisys Hospice (Broward) CAROLINA VEIRA – Dir. Community & Corporate Partnerships IMC Health (Miami) Juliette Ashley Valle, 2021 Hispanic Woman of Distinction Up & Comer Award 

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