Physician Assistant

When David Cantu moved to McAllen, he knew that he had big plans and was willing to work hard to get there. There was no high school in the small town of Paras, Mexico, where he grew up. His sister had already moved to Monterrey to complete her high school, and he was preparing to follow her footsteps but his dad didn’t want the family to be separated any longer.

Instead of moving to Monterrey, the family decided to move together to McAllen so Cantu could complete his high school education in the United States. This helped the keep the family united. Moving to McAllen began a lifelong journey of sacrifice and dedication to education. Because of his language barrier, Cantu was placed one grade level below his age. Despite this setback, he was determined to complete his high school studies in three years. Until he would finish his Bachelor’s degree eleven years later, Cantu never knew a summer without school, work, or sacrifice. Cantu overcame his language barrier and caught up with the rest of his classmates to graduate on time, in 3 years as planned from Rowe High School.

“In the beginning, growing up in a small town where everyone knows each other it was difficult; it wasn’t an easy adjustment to McAllen,” Cantu said. “McAllen life was a new experience for me. The American culture and the customs of the kids around me were completely a shock. I adjusted and I worked hard to learn the language and the way of life in the United States. After I finished high school, I never wanted to leave McAllen; I wanted to stay close to my family. I loved my childhood when I was in Mexico, and I love my new life here. . . . I’ve been very happy with my decision.”

After graduating high school, Cantu attended University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) to begin basic coursework toward a degree in biology. Shortly after enrolling, he applied and was accepted to the first ever class in radiologic technology at South Texas College, earning an associates degree in radiology. This degree led Cantu to a job at McAllen Medical Center where he worked as a radiographer in interventional radiology, surgery, and computed tomography. While he enjoyed working in radiology, he knew that he wanted to spend more time with his patients. Collaborating with other members of the healthcare team helped Cantu become familiar with what would become the career of his lifetime. One member of the team could examine, evaluate, and treat patients but he wasn’t a doctor. That team member was a physician assistant. Convinced this career was a perfect fit, Cantu embarked on another long path of sacrifice and hard work to seek a higher education and become a physician assistant.

“I would work the weekend shifts so I could go to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays to complete my basics and prereqs for PA school,” Cantu said. Once he was accepted into the physician assistant bachelor’s program at UTPA, he attended school full-time during the week and then worked weekends as a CT scan technician. In 2006, Cantu received his Bachelor of Science in Physician Assistant Studies and obtained certification and licensure as a physician assistant. Cantu’s background in radiology, his interest in musculoskeletal medicine in PA school, and an avid love of sports, helped him determine the path of his specialized PA career…orthopedic surgery and sports medicine. His first job as a physician assistant was with a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and an ankle and foot surgeon both at McAllen Bone and Joint Clinic (MBJC). While working full time in orthopedics, he completed his Master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies during his extra time. He completed the Master’s degree at UTPA in 2009.

“I like the interaction with patients. I wanted to be the guy who treated the patients,” Cantu said. “I get to see the patient develop and progress. Being a PA is a very satisfying job.”

He worked for MBJC for five year. For the past three years, Cantu has been a physician assistant at the Marquez Robotic Orthopedic Institute in Edinburg. “I really love all the orthopedic patients, but I love to work with kids the most. Kids are honest and you’re always going to get the truth out of them—especially in their reactions,” Cantu said. “The most wonderful part about my job is being able to see a patient go from not being able to walk, then getting surgery followed by rehab and finally walking normally again.”

Cantu grew up playing baseball in Mexico, and continues his love of the game by playing second base in a softball league today. However, his new passion is golf.

“You play against yourself in golf. It’s a very mental game. You have to use your head and plan out your shot,” Cantu said. “It’s also a very skilled game that requires a good skill set. It’s a game I feel I’ll never master because you never have the same game twice.”

Cantu met his wife, Wendy, while working at McAllen Medical Center seven years before they married. Wendy and Cantu shared common backgrounds. Both were medical professionals and immigrants from foreign countries. Wendy was an RN and a Canadian import. They met while working on the floor and dated for seven years before tying the knot.

These days, Cantu has a new career as a family man. He is devoted to his wife and two children, Natalie (4) and Nicholas (3). “This is the best stage of my life,” he said. “I love being a parent. . . . I’m enjoying every minute of it. I love coming home and having them run up to me and want to play when I come home from work.”