Delivering Decades of Care at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital

Growing up in Cuba, Dr. Lazaro Hernandez remembers being surrounded by family members in the medical profession, and even as a young boy what impressed him most weren’t the stories of healing and curing he heard during conversations around his home, but the recurring theme of being in service to others, of helping people.

It’s something he carried with him during his six decades as a doctor, most of which were spent delivering new bundles of joy to families right here at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital – including four of his own grandchildren.

According to Dr. Hernandez, “There is nothing more pleasant than the birth of a healthy baby,” and it’s clear he considers every one of the over 8,000 children he’s brought into the world a special part of his family even if only for a short period of time.

When he found a place that mirrored his commitment to loving and service-based care he knew he’d found his medical home at St. Joe’s.

Dr. Hernandez has experienced many changes over his 60 years in medicine. When he first started his own practice, he was delivering 30 babies a month on his own – no matter the day or time, he was there for his patients, and it’s a level of care that never changed. He remembers when there were no specialists for high-risk pregnancies or preemie care, no dads allowed in the delivery rooms, no pre-birth imaging.

Dr. Hernandez & five of his great-grandchildren

He’s watched medicine evolve in numerous ways – more often by providing better care and treatment for patients, but sometimes becoming too clinical or too focused on the cost of that care rather than the care itself. But the latter is not something he saw at St. Joe’s, and it’s the reason he spent the bulk of his career here and the reason he entrusted St. Joe’s with the care of his family time and time again. While his first daughter was born in Cuba, his second daughter and all his grandchildren and great-grandchildren have been born at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital.

“Even though I am retired and no longer at the hospital, there is no place else I would want those babies born,” he shares proudly.

His journey to St. Joe’s wasn’t an easy one. While his family wasn’t wealthy, they were comfortable enough to send him to college, which in Cuba is a five-year program. From there he attended University of Havana Medical School, which meant another seven years of learning and training, which turned into eight because the university closed for a period after Fidel Castro took over.

Dr. Hernandez & his wife

Those were difficult times. The new government expected physicians to give at least one year in their specialty, and they determined where you were to go. Everyone’s future was uncertain. Dr. Hernandez knew it was time to move his family out of Cuba. For three years he asked for permission and eventually he, his wife, his young daughter, and his mother-in-law and sister-in-law found themselves in Madrid, Spain – with basically nothing other than the clothes on their backs and a few of their possessions.

It was in Spain that his path to St. Joe’s was forged. His family survived through the kindness of a family friend with business ties in the Tampa area. Dr. Hernandez spent a year honing his English and preparing to take the foreign medical exam which would allow him to complete his internship and medical residency in the United States. In 1969 he started his new life in America – eventually joining the OB/GYN residency program at the University of South Florida/Tampa General Hospital. A few years later, in 1975, he found himself at St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he was named Distinguished Physician of the Year at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in 2008 and was the Chief of Staff of OB/GYN in 2010, eventually retiring in 2017 after a long and successful career.

“Over my years as a physician, one thing that has endured at St. Joe’s is something I have always strived to give my patients – a personal level of care that’s focused on them: what they need and what their family needs. That’s what it means to be of service to our patients. And that’s something I’ve witnessed time and time again at St. Joe’s, throughout all its facilities, and all of its team members.”

After so many years of caring for others, Dr. Hernandez is taking some time to care for himself, spending it with his growing family, reading, watching tv, catching up on sleep(!), and getting ready to celebrate his 90th birthday. When he reflects on all the living he’s done in those ninety years you can still see the sparkle of that little boy in Cuba who once dreamed of doing good for others – and who made that dream come true at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, a place as deeply committed to doing so as he was.

Dr. Hernandez & his growing family