Palomar Health Physician Once Received a Rooster for Payment of Service


In celebration of Doctors’ Day, we are highlighting the Chief of Staff Elect at Palomar Medical Center Poway who is a model for not letting rejection get in the way of his dreams.

Sam Filiciotto, M.D., was rejected by all the medical schools he applied to in 1975, upon graduation from Duke University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology. Determined to become a doctor, “I do believe it was a calling, not just something I wanted to do,” Dr. Filiciotto said. His alternative plan was to attend graduate school at the University of Georgia in Biochemistry before re-applying to medical school. Then his dad offered a different idea.

“He said ‘son, I want to talk to you,’ and I thought I was in trouble.”

Instead, his father praised him for his thoughtful decision-making approach and suggested he consider attending medical school in Guadalajara, Mexico, which had several pros in its favor (experiencing what it is like to live as a minority and learning another culture and foreign language). So, he changed course and went to the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara (UAG). Ironically it was his struggle with Spanish at Duke that probably kept him from being admitted to medical school in the United States.

“Initially it was a failure, you know I was a reject, but it ended up being five of the greatest years of my life until that point, and it’s made me fluent in Spanish. So, I get to help people in Spanish as a physician.”

Dr. Filiciotto saw God’s hand in his experience, noting his mother always instilled a strong sense of faith and relationship with Jesus.

He has been practicing medicine with Palomar Health since 1996, when he got privileges to assist Charles Callery, M.D., with bariatric surgeries and take ER calls, something he’s been doing ever since then. He now assists Karen Hanna, M.D. He estimates he has assisted on about 5,000 bariatric surgeries in the past 25 years.

Dr. Filiciotto’s role at Palomar Health brought his life full circle as he attended Grossmont High School as a teenager, after his family had bounced around the country after his birth in Baltimore. He played football, threw the discus and was drum major of the band. He remembers winning a national marching band contest at the old Aztec Bowl and therefore being flown to perform in the halftime show for NFL playoffs in the Orange Bowl.

After graduating from Duke, then medical school in Guadalajara, he returned to the United States to do a fifth pathway at the University of Southern California. He says he earned two, four-year medical degrees in seven years, one in Spanish and one in English. He did his internship at the University of Iowa and residency and vascular fellowship at New York Medical College. He moved to San Diego to work in the Trauma Room at Scripps before coming to Palomar Medical Center Poway.

He says he has wanted to be a doctor for as long as he can remember. “I always note, I came out of the chute wanting to be a doctor.”

“I wanted to be the first doctor policeman before there were EMTs, the first doctor fireman, the first doctor astronaut…. Whatever games we played with my family, I would always play the doctor. I used to use my uncle’s sword to perform surgery on my sister downstairs in my grandmother’s basement.”

He saw his first surgery at Balboa Naval Hospital in the amphitheater nicknamed the “fish tank.”

“I loved it.”

When asked what his favorite surgery to perform is he said, “I like doing good gall bladders, I love doing colon surgeries, I love doing hernias; I guess my favorite one is when it goes right. I love seeing people get better.”

An impactful experience he had while on a medical mission has continued to motivate him as a physician. A patient gave him a rooster as payment for treatment. Despite being repeatedly instructed to not accept any payment for his care, his mentor encouraged him to accept the rooster. He sagely pointed out that his patient was expressing his gratitude by offering his most valuable possession possible. To not accept the rooster would be humiliating. This experience has continued to motivate him to give all he has—the best care possible.  

When he’s not at work saving lives, Dr. Filiciotto stays active in his church, plays the piano and recorder, carves wood and spends time with his five daughters.

Caption: Palomar Medical Center Poway’s Chief of Staff Elect Sam Filiciotto is doing what he believes he was called to do. 

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