As a child in Cuba, Marygold Fernandez often played with a toy stethoscope and dreamed of following in her family's footsteps. Her sister was a family doctor, her uncle was a vascular doctor and her cousin was an anesthesiologist.
At 17, she went on a church mission trip with her uncle, and the experience only reinforced her desire to go into healthcare.
"My uncle was more than a doctor; he was a humanitarian," she said. "His compassion is something I've always carried with me. I wanted to do the same for my own patients one day."
As it turned out, music was the gateway to her career in medicine. Fernandez studied piano and earned a position as a choir director at the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Arte (National School of Arts) in Havana when she was 14 years old. There, she spent hours each afternoon practicing music, composition and choir.
With her sights set on opportunities in the United States, Fernandez moved to Florida at age 18. Having grown up under a communist regime, she arrived with little money and no grasp of English. So, she taught piano lessons, and along the way, she learned English from her students.
"Through my studies in Cuba, I learned to be dedicated and make a lot of sacrifices, which paid off when I came here," she said. "Having the support of my parents and being a piano teacher saved my life."
After graduating from Nova Southeastern University with a bachelor's in biology and then graduating from medical school, Fernandez completed her family medicine residency at East Carolina University. With relatives in Miami and Tampa, Fernandez decided to return to Florida to be closer to family. In 2017, she started serving as a family practitioner in Poinciana and is credentialed at Poinciana Medical Center.
As a primary care physician, Fernandez delivers regular exams, wellness education and preventive medicine. Many of her patients have significant comorbid conditions that have gone untreated for years, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipemia. Fernandez believes that by providing resources and accountability, she can help them adopt a new mindset toward their health.
"It's critical that my patients feel comfortable and know I'll be here to listen and care about them," she said. "Sometimes, it's hard for them to believe that getting a colonoscopy or mammogram, or taking cholesterol medication, is a good thing. We talk about why their health is so important, and we create a plan together."
Fernandez said family medicine physicians bear a unique responsibility because they are on the front lines of caring for patients.
"We're the first to say, 'You've never had this type of test, so we're going to refer you to a specialist,'" she said. "And sometimes, the patient will say, 'I don't want that.' So, then we talk about our choices. What about getting a fecal stool sample instead of that other test? If you don't want medicine, what else can you do to get those levels under control?'"
In many cases, a combination of diet and exercise can make a significant difference.
"When patients are committed and following the guidelines, they'll come back two weeks later to review labs, and we'll see they've lost some weight," Fernandez said. "That's very encouraging for them, and for me as their health advocate."
When patients are very obese or have trouble losing weight, Fernandez often refers them to nutritionists. She stays in close contact with other specialists so her patients have continuity of care.
Fernandez said that speaking Spanish is an advantage for practicing in Poinciana, which has a significant Hispanic population.
"My patients don't need a translator - they have a personal connection with me, and our cultures are very similar," she said.
Along with sharing her expertise one-on-one, Fernandez takes it into the community. She teaches an array of free classes and lectures at the hospital and in other settings.
"I love this area, and I'm happy whenever I have the chance to help people improve their health," she said. "I'm proud to be practicing in Poinciana."
Fernandez is also actively involved in her church, First Baptist Orlando, and said her faith strengthens her personally and professionally.
One day, she aspires to participate in medical mission trips, inspired by her uncle's legacy. For now, she stays close to home, where she and her husband are raising two preschool-aged children.
"I'm very serious about spending quality time with family," she said. "I love to build up strong relationships. That's why I enjoy my work so much. My patients are an extension of my family, and I get to cheer them on toward good health."
Dr. Marygold Fernandez is a board-certified family medicine physician credentialed at Poinciana Medical Center. To learn more about Dr. Fernandez, search keyword "Fernandez" on the PoincianaMedicalCenter.com "Find a Doctor" page, or call 1.888.253.8117.