Friends and Leaders
By Joey Berlin Texas Medicine May 2018

Cardenas_CazerasThey met in fifth grade, later bonded over music, and since then Carlos J. Cardenas, MD, and Joey Cazares, DDS, have led nearly parallel lives.

They grew up in McAllen together as close friends, graduated in the same high school class, and drifted apart after high school. They both later moved back home — as it turned out, living close to each other purely by chance. Dr. Cazares practices general dentistry; Dr. Cardenas, gastroenterology.

Last year, they became presidents of their respective state professional societies — Dr. Cardenas of the Texas Medical Association, Dr. Cazares of the Texas Dental Association (TDA). In May, both complete their tenures as president.

“The same exact things were happening to us at the exact same time. It was just kind of a weird situation, déjà vu or something,” Dr. Cazares said. “I don’t know what you want to call it. But we mirrored each other all along.”

The two became good friends in sixth grade. In band the next year, Dr. Cardenas, a trombone player, sat behind Dr. Cazares, a saxophone player, and they stayed in band all through high school. For Dr. Cardenas, those musical beginnings gave way to his eventual side career: Today he plays guitar with his own local rock band, the Renaissance Rockers.

Something about the crowd Drs. Cardenas and Cazares ran in as youngsters — or something about McAllen — was a breeding ground for success. Their group of friends back then included, for example, a future NASA astronaut. Michael Fossum, also a trombone player in the band, became an astronaut in 1998 and embarked on three space flights before retiring from NASA in 2017.

“A lot of it had to do with examples in the community of folks that were leaders, and just that sense of growing together and giving back,” Dr. Cardenas said. “It was just how we are, and I think it speaks volumes about the community we grew up in. This is a great place to grow up. It’s a great place to be a young person and to know that you have people you could look up to and be examples for how you should lead your adult life.”

After high school, Drs. Cardenas and Cazares lost touch. But after professional school, they moved back to McAllen about a street away from each other. Dr. Cardenas graduated from medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Dr. Cazares graduated from the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas.

Dr. Cazares always knew his friend wanted to be a physician.

“I remember running into [Dr. Cardenas] one time, it must’ve been in a little restaurant somewhere, and he said, ‘Yeah, you know, I’m thinking about maybe opening up a little surgical center.’ That surgical center is now [Doctors Hospital at Renaissance],” Dr. Cazares said. “It’s just amazing what he has done with that. Seems like just yesterday he was just talking about some little surgical center idea, and it’s one of the biggest employers in our area, and a major medical center now. He’s doing very, very well. We’re proud of him.”

Today, Dr. Cazares is a patient of Dr. Cardenas. They don’t see each other that often. But last year, after Hurricane Harvey hit, the two coordinated TMA’s participation in a TDA-hosted Recovery Empowerment Symposium. 

Dr. Cazares says Dr. Cardenas has shown himself to be “an excellent leader,” with strong communication skills and a good rapport with legislators. Last year, state Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-McAllen) filed a House resolution honoring both men for “rendering exceptional service and proudly representing the Rio Grande Valley as leaders in the Texas medical community.” (See photo, top).

“It’s kind of neat when you grow up and you share the spotlight with somebody like Dr. Cardenas,” Dr. Cazaras said. “I don’t see it as a competitive thing whatsoever. I see it as just two kids from the same background, the same environment, that went off and did what they do, and were searched out more than anything, at least in my case, to be a leader in our profession. And here in the hometown, a lot of people know about it. It’s nice to have that notoriety, I guess you could say — that it [happened for] both of us.” 


President Cardenas: A Look Back

Carlos J. Cardenas, MD’s tenure as president of the Texas Medical Association began in the waning days of a 2017 regular legislative session in which several important bills got across the finish line. But his year at the helm may be best remembered for what didn’t happen: The practice of medicine in Texas didn’t become the wild, wild West.

Under Dr. Cardenas’ leadership, in the special session that Gov. Greg Abbott called last summer, TMA helped pull the Texas Medical Board sunset bill and the Medical Practice Act out of the teeth of political bickering, ensuring that the practice of medicine would remain properly regulated beyond a looming 2017 expiration date. He also presided over legislative victories during the 2017 regular session that protect physicians from being forced to undergo maintenance of certification; establish a proper framework for the practice of telemedicine; and expand mediation for surprise medical bills. (See “2017 Annual Report” insert.)  

And when the devastating onslaught of Hurricane Harvey hit, TMA and Dr. Cardenas helped galvanize the physician population in Texas and across the country with TMA’s Disaster Relief Program, eventually raising more than $1 million to assist affected practices. 

“[The storm] pulled us together as a community,” Dr. Cardenas said. “We got several of our past presidents together to form the benevolent committee that allowed us to help colleagues who had difficulties with property loss, and … provide funds to try to help get them back on their feet.” In March, that special committee of the TMA Physicians Benevolent Fund finished its work on applications for assistance to determine how much physicians will receive based on need (

Dr. Cardenas says it’s been an honor to represent his colleagues, and traveling across the state has shown him that organized medicine in Texas is alive and well. Although Athens family physician Douglas Curran, MD, will replace him as president this month at TexMed 2018 (See “Getting Personal," page 22), Dr. Cardenas plans to continue involvement in organized medicine and doing anything it might require of him.

“Our organization is made up of the grass roots,” he said. “I hope I’ve been able to do a job that everyone can look to and say that I did a good job.”

Tex Med. 2018;114(5):28-29
May 2018 Texas Medicine Contents 
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Last Updated On

February 26, 2019

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Joey Berlin

Associate Editor

(512) 370-1393

Joey Berlin is associate editor of Texas Medicine. His previous work includes stints as a reporter and editor for various newspapers and publishing companies, and he’s covered everything from hard news to sports to workers’ compensation. Joey grew up in the Kansas City area and attended the University of Kansas. He lives in Austin.

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