From High School Dropout to
Surgeon General Thanks to BCC
Dr. Richard Carmonas life story
reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie, a Frank Capra movie:
high school dropout and poor Hispanic kid from Harlem becomes
Surgeon General of the United States.
And the 52-year-old Carmona says he owes
his successful medical career to Bronx Community College, from
which he graduated with honors in 1973 with an Associate degree
in liberal arts.
Speaking by phone from his office in Washington, the dropout from
DeWitt Clinton High School said, Coming back from the war
in Vietnam as a high school dropout, with a GED, I really didnt
have many options. But BCC was willing to let me try. I truly
appreciate the opportunity BCC gave me and so many others.
Carmona emailed similar gratitude to BCC professor and chairman
of health and physical education Michael Steuerman shortly after
he was confirmed by the Senate in July. He said it was the
first step in his move to higher education, Steuerman recalls.
Until BCC, hed met with no success in education.
In the email, the grateful graduate singled out four of his BCC
professorsHenry Hermo, Gil Riley, Richard Kor, and Steuerman
himselfas helping him to achieve his remarkable turn-around.
According to Steuerman, Carmona was the prototypical adult
re-entry student, enrolling in BCC in 1970 after serving
a stint in Vietnam as a decorated Green Beret medic. He
knew a lot about practical anatomy, remembers Hermo, now
an emeritus professor of biology. He had seen a lot more
than I had seen.
It wasnt his medical knowledge, however, that made him stand
out. He was motivated, Hermo says. He was out
in front. He made his presence known in class by asking questions,
and he took others under his wing.
Carmonas helping other students is what Steuerman remembers
most. He was a lifeguard in our swimming pool, he
says. He did much more than was required. He was active
in teaching other students to swim.
At BCC, he made the Deans List and graduated with a 3.73
grade point average and went on to the University of California-San
Franciscos medical school, where he earned his B.S. and
became valedictorian. A skilled trauma surgeon, he started the
first trauma center in Tucson, Arizona, where he is a professor
of surgery at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. He
also helped the state create its latest disaster-preparedness
The Hollywood allusion, incidentally, is not so far-fetched. The
part-time sheriffs deputy and SWAT team leader/trainer made
national headlines in 1992and inspired a made-for-TV filmwhen
he rappelled from a helicopter to rescue a hiker stranded on a
cliff just after another helicopter had crashed.
The incident is typical, BCC professors say, of Carmonas
dedication not only to his fellow students but also to his profession.
Sciences were what he wanted to gobble up, Hermo recalls.
When he came to BCC, he wasnt looking back, he was
really looking forward. He was outstanding.