Dr. Marcial Santos’ next journey will be 26.2 miles
A Cape Cod physician, from the Dominican Republic, runs Boston to honor patients who did not survive COVID
When Dr. Marcial Santos, a hospitalist at Cape Cod Hospital who also provides primary care at Broad Reach Health Care in Chatham, runs the Boston Marathon April 18, he will do so in memory of patients who did not survive COVID.
“It was so hard to see people pass without my being able to do much of anything, especially at the beginning,” says Dr. Santos. “I could give oxygen, prescribe steroids, try other methods, but too often it wasn’t enough. So I decided to train to run a marathon to honor those patients who don’t have a chance to breathe fresh air anymore. I don’t want to take that for granted.”
Given the trajectory of Dr. Santos’ life and career, compassion coupled with a willingness to take on a challenge is no surprise.
Marcial Santos was born and raised in the Dominican Republic in Bani, a town west of Santo Domingo. One of five children, his dad was a mechanic and his mom took care of home and kids.
“I worked with my father in his garage every weekend,” Marcial remembers. “He told me to work hard, no matter what.” He still does, at 76, now as a mechanic in Boston.
The doctor-to-be became a welder in high school, but wanted to go to university and his parents were supportive as could be. Santos made his way through one of the nation’s best private schools in medicine.
“Always, in the back of my mind, was the idea to try to practice here in the United States,” he says. “I was amazed at the high-tech ways, the things that can be accomplished. And I knew there was one thing I needed most of all, to learn the language. So I started buying medical books in English, reading and reading with a dictionary nearby.”
In the Dominican, medical school graduates are required to serve one year of public service known as “pasantia.” In 1997, Santos was assigned to a beautiful, remote town in the mountains, Los Martinez, where he became the only doctor for about 1500 people.
“I did everything,” he recalls. “Cuts, sutures, addressing obesity and diabetes, cleaning ear wax, even being a psychologist!”
In that same small town, the Peace Corps had sent a volunteer, an American from Massachusetts. That was fateful; the two would marry and raise three children.
Santos needed to pass a series of boards to qualify for a US medical residency. The main stumbling block remained linguistic not medical, comprehending complex terms. He kept studying, and by 1999 was granted a “fiancé visa” to come to the United States with his wife-to-be (they married within three months, as required by law). He worked at the counter in a CVS, as a medical assistant and phlebotomist at Mass General, then passed the boards and won a residency in Chicago – a long way from Bani.
Chicago also is a long way from Massachusetts, and the new doctor’s wife wanted to be closer to family. Neither preferred a big city, so “Cape Cod seemed like the best choice,” Santos says. In 2005, Cape Cod Hospital offered him his first job after residency, which he holds to this day.
Being a “hospitalist” means he becomes the physician in charge of patients admitted, overseeing care until discharge. “This is always acute care,” says Santos. “I love the work, but for me there was something missing. I wanted more consistency, to get to know my patients better over a longer term. So five years or so ago I thought that perhaps I would try a place like a rehabilitation center.”
His hospital schedule is five days on, five off, giving him time to try another health care approach with the hospital’s blessing – provided he was willing to work long weeks.
“I found exactly what I was looking for at Broad Reach and Liberty Commons,” Santos remembers. “It is a different kind of medicine, more preventive, deeper one-on-one connections.”
As the pandemic struck, Dr. Santos found himself musing about “how fragile life can be,” making sure to focus on family and his own health. He took up serious running again (he had done the Chicago marathon in 2019), and that led to his decision to dedicate a Boston marathon to those who have been lost to COVID.
He joined the Esplanade Association in Boston, a group supporting the open space and shell along the Charles River that hosts and allows many outdoor events. In order to qualify for Boston you need to have run a fast marathon elsewhere or raise funds, in this case $11,000, so the Association became his umbrella sponsor.
“I’m getting close to my financial goal,” says Dr. Santos. He had an athletic goal as well, to finish the race in four hours and 30 minutes. “However, given life’s circumstances, I needed to modify my goal,” he smiles. “Now, it’s to finish.”
His professional journey continues as well; Dr. Santos is joining a practice in Yarmouth as a primary care provider, still affiliated with Cape Cod Hospital but no longer a hospitalist. He will remain on staff at Liberty Commons, a combination that he finds most gratifying.
The young man from Bani is fulfilling his dreams.
Dr. Santos would welcome financial support for his run, which can be offered on what’s called his “givengain” page:
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