– Story by Erin McPhee Photography by Don Denton
A conversation with her youngest daughter set Dr. Ana Teresa Armas Enriquez’s life in an entirely new, exciting direction.
Back in 2016, the Cuba native had just moved to Nanaimo with her husband and two girls after spending 12 years in Morden, Manitoba, practising rural medicine. She was becoming increasingly frustrated at the challenge of securing a permanent position at an existing medical practice in her new Vancouver Island home.
“I actually found it almost as hard to settle in the practice of medicine on the island as I encountered in getting my credentials recognized in Canada,” she says.
Ana Teresa’s daughter, Camille, six years old at the time, patiently listened to her mother express her desire to hear back about a job, before asking her a series of eye-opening questions.
“‘Do they know how to do something you don’t? Do they know how to run a business in a way that you don’t? Then why is it that you don’t just do it yourself?’” Ana Teresa recalls her wise-beyond-her-years youngest inquiring.
“I looked at her and I said, ‘You’re right, I should probably do this alone.’ So I went and did it,” she says.
Ana Teresa, 42, graduated from medical school in Havana before immigrating to Toronto in 2002. After arriving in Canada, she worked hard to become licensed to practice here, and spent a number of years working and learning all she could in what she considers her “home clinic” in Morden. Reflecting on her experiences, she decided it was time to launch a solo practice, Women’s Vita Medical Clinic, and to do it her way.
“I decided this is my opportunity to take everything that I learned in medical school and medical practices in Cuba and Canada, make my own blend and make my true identity shine,” she says. “There are things from both places that I absolutely respect, and there are things from the two places that I absolutely think that they could do better.”
A three women partnership — herself, a full-time nurse, Kassidy Delcaro, and receptionist Ani Rodriguez — Women’s Vita offers family medicine with a strong focus on women’s health. Ana Teresa treats women at every age and stage of their lives, often seeing them during challenging periods. She aims to offer a safe, supportive and accessible option for women. She also works in the hospital, treating patients in the emergency room, labour and delivery, and during longer stays.
“I love what I do for a living. I’m very, very blessed that I have a job that I absolutely love,” she says.
Ana Teresa continues to advocate for more studies focused on women to better serve them as a whole, and works to integrate new technology into her practice. She also seeks to empower and educate her patients about their bodies, their specific health risks and how to take good care of themselves.
Growing up west of Havana as an only child — the daughter of an engineer and an accountant — Ana Teresa’s family thought she was destined to become a lawyer.
“I’m the shortest of the entire family and I was one of the shortest of my entire school … but for sure I was the loudest,” she says. “I made my points.”
Measuring five feet tall, she credits her strong-mindedness to her father’s side of the family and her perseverance to her mother, the combination of which helped her defy the odds and move to Canada.
“I feel like I had to be triple strong,” she says. “First, because no matter which country you go to, women are still the greatest minority. Take that on top of being a foreign physician, and I had to prove myself many times. I want to be an example for my two daughters, showing that it’s not going to come easy, but getting there is your journey. If you persevere and put all your might and passion into it, and work really hard, you get to it, and then you become another example for the greater good.”
Ana Teresa’s life during and after graduating medical school in Havana was challenging.
“I studied hungry with nothing to eat, with no light,” she says. “You do all of this, and then you get out of there, you’re a doctor, you know your job, yet you don’t have food on your plate that was provided by your own work.”
According to Ana Teresa, in Cuba, doctors are among the poorest professionals, and it is not unusual for tourists to find that their taxi driver or bed and breakfast host is also a surgeon or doctor.
“I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to be a doctor not having three jobs on the side. That’s not how I envisioned my life,” she says.
“I love the culture I come from, and I love my family. I love the beaches — there’s no beauty in the Pacific Ocean that quite competes with the beauty of the Caribbean. But I had no hope. I graduated and I had to be fed by my parents and my parents-in-law. I had to be dressed by my grandmother. Those were the reasons to leave and never look back.”
Wanting to provide a better life for herself and her future children led her to convince her husband, Joel Victores, an IT engineer, to join her in immigrating to Canada.
The couple met when Ana Teresa was 15 and they got married five years later.
“I don’t know if I can fathom my life without him,” she says.
When she’s not practising medicine, Ana Teresa enjoys time with her family. Weekends are spent ferrying their girls, Cosette, 13 and Camille, nine, to different lessons and activities, and with her parents and brother-in-law, who have followed in their footsteps, similarly moving from Cuba and settling in Nanaimo.
During quieter times, she can be found immersed in a good book and or experimenting with a new recipe — Mediterranean cuisine is a family favourite.
“We live near Brannen Lake in Nanaimo, which is a blessing. My neighbourhood feels like I live in a resort all year round,” she says.
“Part of the beauty of living on the island is that you can go anywhere. I enjoy the drive to Port Alberni and looking at the lakes and mountains. We go to Coombs often. We go and look for shells on the beach. I grew up doing that in Cuba…And then we go and do some art with those shells or the treasures we find on the shores. It’s beautiful; you don’t need to invest in anything, all you need is to look around and your spirts are uplifted with the beauty of the nature around us.”
You can check out Dr. Ana Teresa Armas Enriquez’s clinic Women’s Vita here.