Alumnus Ruben Matos saves lives on the battlefield and beyond

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The importance of obtaining an education was instilled in USF College of Public Health alumnus Ruben Matos at a young age.

Raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico, he recalls how hard his own parents worked to achieve their educational goals.

“Education was a big deal for them and they always said that was the only legacy they could leave me, so going to school was my job,” he said.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology from Inter American University of Puerto Rico he set his sights on the COPH.

“I wanted to be involved in health care management, but I was also was looking at it from the perspective of public systems,” he said. “At the time, USF had the HPM [health policy and management] track which worked with both policy and management, so when I did my research, I figured this was a good way for me to get a little bit of both.”

Lt. Col. Ruben Matos. (Photo courtesy of Ruben Matos)

In 1985 he became one of the first 100 students to walk the halls of the USF COPH building when he decided to pursue his MPH in health care administration and management from the Department of Health Policy and Management.

“Having been a full time worker while going to school presented its own set of challenges, it made it a little tougher and I had to adapt and Dr. Jay Wolfson [Distinguished Service Professor of Public Health, Medicine and Pharmacy, Associate Vice President for Health Law, Policy and Safety and the Senior Associate Dean Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida] helped me a lot in those days to keep me on track,” he said. “He was my advisor; he was quite possibly the most motivational professor I’ve ever had. As an individual he was great to talk to; as a professor he was engaging.”

Ruben Matos (second left) with Dr. Jay Wolfson (front left) and classmates in 1987. (Photo courtesy of Ruben Matos)

Upon graduating with his master’s degree, Matos stayed in Tampa and worked for St. Joseph’s Hospital and Pediatric Health Choice, before joining the U.S. Air Force in 1994 where he’s made a career of helping others using public health.

As an active duty lieutenant colonel in the Medical Service Corps, he said he combines his public health passion of putting the right mix of medical personnel in place so that there is proper patient access to care.

He’s currently serving as deputy chief of the International Health Specialist (IHS) Program, in Washington, D.C., where he’s been stationed for almost two years.

The IHS Program, established in 2000 by former U.S. Air Force Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Paul (PK) Carlton, consists of a team of health professionals that bridge together knowledge of military and civilian health in support of global health engagement. IHS personnel lead humanitarian assistance and health-related activities on behalf of the Air Force Medical Service (AFMS), according to Matos.

“We can speak their language, we understand their culture, we understand their medical systems and we can work side by side with them,” he said. “The ultimate goal is for that partner nation to increase their effectiveness within their scope of operations. So, helping them know what they have, how to use it, and how to be more effective.”

Matos plays a critical role in delegating where specific medical personnel are needed to support current health care needs in various regions across the globe.

“It’s fascinating to see the things that we’re doing and the things that we can make happen,” he said.

Matos (center) was the founder and first president of the Latin American Student Association (LASA) at USF in 1986. (Photo courtesy of Ruben Matos)

Matos recalls his proudest moment in his professional career as being part of the first wave of troops sent on deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In Iraq, he said that he and his colleagues provided medical care to collation forces and took care of all injured personnel.

“We took care of everyone no matter what; that’s what health care is all about,” he said. “Even some of non-friendlies were cared for in our facilities because we don’t deny care to anyone. So, having been able to participate in a war zone and contingency operation and being successful with the care of our folks was very rewarding.”

During his time in Iraq, he said that he and his team helped improved battlefield medicine outcomes.

“We’re talking about an austere environment where sand is blowing everywhere,” he said. “It’s not the cleanest environment, but we were able to save over 99 percent of people that came to us that were salvageable.  It’s a good feeling to be able to take care of our soldiers and be able to send them home again.”

Matos plans to remain on activity duty for the time being and upon retiring from the U.S. Air Force, hopes to work for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, commonly known as the V.A. System.

“Working in the Air Force Medical Service, my goal is to help provide medical services to our active duty folks and their dependents. When I retire, I want to continue helping those who served who by then will need our support more than ever,” he said.


Fast Five for COPH Alumni:

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?

I wanted to be an orthodontist. That didn’t happen!


Where would we find you on the weekend?

You will find me, now that I’m here in DC, you’ll find me visiting local sites and monuments the National Capital Region has to offer!


What is the last book you read?

“Lincoln on Leadership,” by Donald T. Phillips


What superpower would you like to have?

To be able to fly, to transport myself from point A to point B and be available whenever I’m needed.


What’s your all-time favorite movie?

“The Godfather” movies.

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health