My dad: Aklan-born vet doctor runs flourishing pet hospital in Queens

Dr. Florentino Romero, DVM: He failed board exams eight times but he just kept going.

By Tina Marie Romero 

I am convinced my dad set a Guinness World Record that no one will ever attempt to break.

My dad, Dr. Florentino Romero, holds the record of taking the U.S. Veterinary Board exam eight times until he finally passed and became a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in New York City.

For eight years, the board exams eluded him. He was 47 years old when he took the exam for the first time in 1986. Reviewing for a veterinary board exam is an overwhelming task even to young new graduates who still have their veterinary education fresh on their minds. 

How much more for a man in his 50s who has been out of veterinary school in a foreign country for more than 20 years. The different veterinary training he had in the Philippines plus his lack of experience with U.S. standard of veterinary care added another layer of complexity. But he never gave up on his dream to have his veterinary practice in New York City.

Most people give up after failing once or twice, but not my dad. For eight years, he spent hundreds of hours studying and thousands of dollars in application fees and travel expenses to the exam location in upstate New York. While reviewing at night, he also worked full time during the day so he can send money to support our family in the Philippines.    

Finally in 1994 at the age of 56, dad passed the board exam and officially became a licensed DVM. Shortly after getting his veterinary license, he bought an inactive practice that has been closed for 12 years. Since he didn’t have financial resources to renovate the dilapidated place, he and a buddy did the physical labor themselves to make the place ready to reopen.

In May 1997, dad reopened Merrick Blvd Animal Hospital and officially achieved his elusive dream.

The first five years were tough. He had no clients and had to start from the ground up. The practice was in a neighborhood burdened with high crime and drugs. In fact, the previous owner was shot in the premises. But that never scared my dad. In his own words, “How can they hurt me when I treat their beloved pets and I am good to them.”

Author with her father: ‘Each passing year, I am amazed by his drive and energy.’

He was right. He made friends with everyone in the neighborhood. He always tried to help and allowed clients to leave without paying. Soon, he became known to offer discounts and installment plans to clients who otherwise can’t afford much needed surgery for their dog or cat. He also provided complimentary home service to seniors who were unable to go out and bring their pets to the clinic.

Dad learned to be an entrepreneur at an early age in the Philippines. His parents did not give him and his seven siblings free allowance. They had to earn it.

During their elementary and high school years, he and his twin brother Ike bought eggs from the barangay for five cents and resold it to their father for seven cents. Their profit became their allowance. This helped their dad in his buy-and-sell business. He bought produce from different municipalities in Aklan and brought it to Manila by boat every week to resell.

The twins initially wanted to be medical doctors because of the high esteem associated with the profession. But in a subtle way, their mother influenced them to be veterinarians by telling them how proud she was of a relative who became a veterinarian and pursued graduate studies in the U.S. Although dad initially became a veterinarian to please his mom, he does not regret it. To this day, he enjoys talking to his four-legged patients and their highly concerned pet parents.

Turning 83 in July this year, dad still works full time at his practice on top of other projects he is envisioning. If that isn’t enough, he has another business he still currently owns in the Philippines, Villa Romero de Boracay.

Each passing year, I am amazed by his drive and energy especially after the past two cruel COVID years. In March 2020 when COVID-19 was at its peak and mortality was at its highest in New York, dad tested positive and was one of the unlucky ones who waited for hours at an emergency hospital in Queens hoping to be seen by a doctor. He considered himself lucky. He lost more than a dozen friends from COVID including his primary physician and best friend.

In the midst of immense grief, his twin brother whom he is attached at the hip, was hospitalized and didn’t survive. That caused him immeasurable heartbreak but true to his form, he mourned but couldn’t allow his sadness to rob him off his passion for life.

With a small red suitcase and a $500 loan back in 1986, he got on a plane to the U.S. after life knocked him down really hard in the Philippines. When the sugar industry fell in the eighties, he lost his successful veterinary practice and other businesses in Bacolod City.

He lost everything but chose to start all over again in the U.S. He was never too proud to start from scratch; rather he fought harder. He did whatever he needed to do including working as a stock boy at Lord & Taylor. He worked as an unpaid veterinary technician and took jobs wherever he can even if it took more than an hour commute each way. Nothing was beneath him.

“Unlimited opportunities exist here in the US if you work hard” is dad’s favorite mantra to my siblings and I. Constantly hearing and seeing that from him paid off. Today, I have my own successful business because of his living example. As I write this piece to honor him on Father’s Day, I am so proud of my dad and celebrate his amazing life worthy of a Guinness World Record.

Tina Marie Romero is the CEO of Synergy HomeCare, a franchise business located in Central New Jersey. She hails from Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.

© The FilAm 2022

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