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Why I Dropped Out of Med School to Start a Company

How Ricardo Alexander Gomez sacrificed a career in medicine to launch New Wave Surgical--and to create better tools for surgeons.

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Med school is tough enough without starting a company in your dorm. But after working in the operating room, Ricardo Alexander Gomez saw the need for better tools. So he threw himself into launching New Wave Surgical, his Pompano Beach, Florida-based company. Even though it meant abandoning his other dream. Entrepreneur Ricardo Alexander Gomez told his story to Inc. contributor Reshma Memon Yaqub.

My grandfather got me interested in medicine. He was a doctor for nearly 30 years, serving the underprivileged in Cuba and Puerto Rico. When he died, hundreds came to the funeral. He had made a difference in so many lives. From then on, I wanted to become a doctor.

To save for medical school, I worked as a surgical technologist, who passes instruments to the surgeon. That's when I encountered a strange technique: using a bucket of hot water during laparoscopic surgery. The operating room is chilly. When you put a cold laparoscopic camera lens into a warm body, it fogs up. Surgeons go in and out, dipping the scope in the bucket to defog it. Our hospital was small and dated, so I assumed we were using an archaic method.

Then, during medical school, I moonlighted as a surgical tech at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, a state-of-the-art facility. The surgeons were doing things laparoscopically that no one else dared. Yet, there I was again with that bucket.

That's when I started developing the D-HELP, a fist-size device. You insert the scope, and a solution inside cleans and warms the lens. It's disposable and battery operated, and, unlike the bucket, it can sit right on the operating table.

As a med student, I had little money for development. I asked a surgeon to co-sign a loan with me. He agreed, but because I had no credit or income, the bank refused. So he loaned me $90,000 himself. If there's a true definition of an angel investor, it's Daniel McBride, M.D.

Streamlining Operations

Ricardo Alexander Gomez developed a small device (on the far-right edge of the table) to replace the buckets of hot water traditionally used to defog scopes during laparoscopic surgery.

I began creating working models of the device. I'd go down to the lobby of my dorm, and the doorman would wonder why I was getting weird components and boxes from China. I tried many cleansing solutions, but I couldn't find one gentle or safe enough. One night, at 3 a.m., I was studying for a test and read about a solution used to clean burns. It's what we still use today.

When I needed more funding, my mother refinanced her house. I struggled with that, but I felt deep in my heart that I would not let her down.

Eventually, I had to decide whether to enter residency or continue with the business full time. In my fourth year, I left medical school. I had more than $200,000 in educational debts, but I knew that for the company to succeed, I had to give it everything I had.

Today, nearly 1,000 hospitals use D-HELP. I may not be a doctor like my grandfather, but success is not about letters at the end of my name. It's about making a contribution to people's care. And I feel blessed to have done that.

IMAGES: Jeffery Salter, Jeffery Salter
From the September 2013 issue of Inc. magazine

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