By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public AffairsJanuary 24, 2012
NATICK, Mass. (Jan. 24, 2012) -- He already answers to "specialist." Now he will have to get accustomed to being called "doctor."
Spc. Hedrick Porrata of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM, at Natick Soldier Systems Center realized his lifelong dream to become a doctor by passing the medical board recently in Worcester, Mass. Porrata's wife, Mireya Perez, passed the board at the same time.
"It's been a long, long road, but it's important in your life if you have a goal, you have a dream," Porrata said. "It's going to be hard. It's going to be tough, difficult. My recommendation for everyone is never quit, never quit."
A native of Puerto Rico, Porrata said his work ethic is a family trait.
"It's from my mom, my dad," Porrata said. "They (taught) me everything about human values."
The Army built upon that solid foundation.
"The first thing I learned in the Army was never quit," Porrata said. "It doesn't matter the situation. You never quit."
Porrata, 30, chose to join the Army in 2009 after completing medical school the previous year.
"Maybe another person has a better way to do it, but that was my pathway to do it," Porrata said. "I decided to enlist in the military for the opportunity, the benefit, and to develop my English skills as my second language."
"I'm trying to improve my fluency," Porrata explained. "I understand everything I read, but I try to communicate in a better way. I recognize this is one of my weaknesses, but I'm working every day to improve it."
Porrata became a medical laboratory specialist at Brooke Army Medical Center at San Antonio, Texas. He arrived a year ago at USARIEM, where he works as a biological research assistant.
"It's difficult, studying for the board, but every day you need to go home and study until 10 or 11 o'clock at night," Porrata said. "But I have all the support here of my chain of command -- from the enlisted side and from the officer side. I'm very happy with the people here."
That appreciation works both ways at USARIEM.
"Since assigned here, he has been tireless in the pursuit of success," said Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Persaud, USARIEM first sergeant. "He always places the Army mission first."
Porrata went to medical school at Universidad Iberomericana in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and graduated with honors after finishing his undergraduate degree in biomedical science at Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico with a 3.69 grade point average.
"It is more than nine years in college," said Porrata, "more than nine years straight."
That won't be the end of Porrata's education. He and his 31-year-old wife now look forward to their medical residencies, either here or back in Puerto Rico.
"We are going to try to apply to the residency program together, as a couple," Porrata said. "The residency in Puerto Rico is fully accredited. All my family (is) there. It's my first choice. It's going to be hard in the future, doing the residency, but I am ready for the challenge."
Regardless where they wind up, Porrata plans to stay in uniform.
"I know, as a foreign medical (school) graduate, I need to be at least one year of graduate medical education (medical residency) to have the opportunity to apply for the direct commission as a medical doctor in the Army," Porrata said. "I'm very happy, very happy to be part of the Army family."